Chapter 2 - The Making of a Warrior
Sparta, 496 BC
"Well?!" Leonidas demanded, "What're you waiting for? Attack again!"
Chastised, and bearing a quickly purpling left eye, six year old Leandros charged again. As Leonidas moved to grapple at the youngster's swinging right fist, Leandros quickly traded his balance for the advantage, awkwardly kicking out with his left foot and striking Leonidas in the side of his thigh. The blow was enough to make Leonidas falter slightly, but due to Leandros' size, the worst that it caused was for the King of Sparta to stumble merely half a step to the side. Leandros, on the other hand, fell flat on his face, a victim of his own misfortune. He had overestimated the damage he could cause with that kick, hoping that he would have enough time to regain his footing and attack again.
A foot landed on his upper back, pressing down painfully and sending the boy's face further into the mud. He groaned, tasting the filth on his lips, then growled.
"Forfeit?" Leonidas asked challengingly, pressing down alittle harder. Leandros' response was to groan in pain, but rapidly shift his body, causing Leonidas' foot to slip off to the side. The price paid for such amaneuver was the lance of pain that made the boy cry out as the motion of the King's foot first dragged, then pinched the skin of the boy's back harshly. Partially turning, the boy tried his hardest, sending his foot rocketing upwards to strike at Leonidas.
"Never!" his voice rang, the high pitch of his child's voice echoing in the small courtyard. Unfortunately for Leonidas, the lad's foot found a home in his upper thigh. The King barely had time to marvel at his luck, having evaded possibly permanent damage to the future of the Royal line, before Leandros was on his feet again swinging his fists with renewed vigor. The blow to his inner thigh had not hurt in the slightest, but the muscles somehow faltered, making the King loose his footing for a second. Leonidas continued to deflect the blows with inordinate ease, but even as Leandros, scowling, continued his fruitless pummeling of the King's palms, a proud smile had made its way onto Leonidas' bearded face. The boy truly had the heart of a lion, holding his head high even in the face of pain and defeat.
Leandros, now breathing heavily, was furious with himself. His King was tiring him out, and fool that he was, he was allowing it to happen! Frustrated, he let out an animalistic growl, and faked the next punch, grimly satisfied that Leonidas' attempt to block it had sent his arm out of the way. Bellowing, Leandros charged forward, ramming his forehead into the King's muscular midsection, knowing to aim generally between the rippling muscles for the best effect. While small, there would be enough surprise at the pain caused by the blow for Leandros to at least make some headway.
Leonidas let out a startled exclamation, half furious at being outwitted, and half prideful in having taught the boy well. The blow to his abdomen, while initially well aimed, had not accounted for the movement of his body due to the overextended arm which was supposed to have deflected the boy's punch. The pain was minimal at best, but it had served its purpose, giving Leandros that extra fraction of asecond in which to make his move. Rather than continue to swing fruitlessly, the lad tackled his right leg, wrapping his arms around the thigh, then slipped downwards and dug his fingers into the back of the King's knee. Leonidas' knee buckled, causing him to fall to one knee.
The lad pulled back about two paces, and furious at the action, Leonidas shouted "Press your advantage, you fool!" Immediately the boy darted forward again, jumping towards Leonidas with one knee flying towards the King's face. Eyes widening at the tactic, Leonidas quickly dropped sideways to the ground, the lad's knee passing his face almost in slow motion, then speeding up drastically as the rest of his body followed through. The King's face now bore a proud grin, and he rose quickly to his feet. Having overshot his target, Leandros' momentum carried him a few feet forward, after which he whirled around, sprinting back to continue fighting. His charge, however, was quelled easily, as Leonidas extended an arm, and by placing his palm on the lad's forehead, held him just out of striking range. The lad continued to fight, making Leonidas laugh uproariously.
"Stop, lad," the King said, and Leandros complied immediately, ceasing his actions and standing completely upright. Even at his tender age, the lad already showed signs of forming muscles, and a broad chest that hinted at the fact that he would be an impressive male specimen someday. The boy was looking him in the eye fearlessly ... well, as best as he could with one eye swollen shut. Thus it was somewhat humorous when Leonidas swung his fist in a perfect uppercut, striking the boy square under the jaw and lifting him clean off his feet. The boy hissed in pain, but refused to scream, falling in a heap on the ground a few feet away.
"Always be prepared," the King said quietly. Leandros, furious, calmed himself at hearing the King's tone. "There are those who would approach you under pretences of peace, only to stab you in the back as you embrace them."
Leandros stood, then nodded curtly, none too happy about the strike. He could already feel the stinging pain of abruise forming under his chin, and through experience, he knew that talking would be a chore in the coming few days.
"Now," Leonidas said, settling himself on the balls of his feet, "attack again."
Leandros growled, charging forward as fast as he could go. Mid-step, the growl turned into a full-blown shout, and Leandros threw himself forward, ducking his head down and leading with his right shoulder. With an almighty crash, he landed flat on the ground, as Leonidas had simply stepped out of the way. Scowling furiously, Leandros attempted to stand up, only to have Leonidas pin his body to the ground by laying the toes of his foot on one side of the boy's body, and his knee on the other, pinning Leandros' midsection with his lower leg, his shin squashing the child into the dirt.
"Forfeit." This time, it wasn't a question, it was a demand.
Struggling to throw the King off him, he refused to give in, refused to say the one word that would end it. Instead, he continued to fight, continued to try and force Leonidas' considerable weight off his small body, but to no avail. His frustration began to give way to anger, and he made the mistake of looking at Leonidas' face. The Spartan King looked amused at young Leandros' attempts to push him off, and this set the boy off. With a shout of anger and a sudden flash in his eyes, Leandros successfully threw Leonidas off him.
Ten feet away.
The Spartan king landed in a heap, the mud making a squelch of noise as his body sank into it. A few seconds later, looking only slightly worse for wear, he stood, facing Leandros with his mouth hanging open in shock. His stare was mirrored by the one adorning his ward's face. The child clearly had no clue what he had just accomplished, but was gobsmacked by what he had done. There was a stretch of silence as the two stared at each other. Leandros saw some emotion bubbling up in the King's eyes, and he flinched slightly, wondering what the repercussions would be.
Then Leonidas began laughing, a booming sound that echoed in the courtyard. Leandros chuckled nervously, not really knowing what was so funny. The King walked up to him, and placing one heavy hand on his shoulder, led him away, still laughing.
"One of those, are you?" the King questioned, an amused smile on his face, "Haven't had one of your kind in a while, I think... you'll be awelcome addition to the Hoplites someday. Very well.We'll have to see to getting you trained to use your magics, then."
Turning, for he had sensed Leandros stop walking, he was met with the child's gobsmacked expression. Then a nasty gleam entered the child's eyes, and he grinned. "Magic?" be boy asked, looking almost feral in his anticipation.
The King smirked. "Magic," he agreed, cuffing the boy's head gently, and leading him away.
He was excited, to say the least. Bubbling on the inside, yet placid, almost bored on the outside, he waited outside the house of his teacher. He stood next to the wall, and realizing that his wait would be long, decided to make himself more comfortable. He leaned his shoulder against the rough surface of the wall, and crossed his left leg behind his right leg. A few feet away from him stood another boy, apparently one who he would learn Magic with. Leandros, somewhat confused as he had thought that magic-people were extremely rare, nevertheless appraised him out of the corner of his eye, while trying to appear aloof and disinterested. In this endeavor, he was hopelessly failing, his eyes flickering over to the lad every second.
The boy, like him, had black hair, though his was thick and ropy, falling down to his shoulders. It was parted in the middle, giving him an almost womanly look as it framed his face and fell in his eyes.
Boldly, the boy nodded at him appraisingly. "Astinos," the boy said, sufficiently introducing himself.
Leandros raised an eyebrow. "The Captain's son?" he asked, looking interested. The other boy inclined his head in agreement.
The Captain, Dienekes, was simply known by his rank these days. He was a formidable warrior, hot-headed and fiery in battle, yet level-headed and calculating in command... and one of Leonidas'most trusted friends. Leandros had encountered the man a few times, but had not actually spoken to him.
"Leandros," he said, introducing himself. The other boy nodded, once again falling silent and turning his attention to the wall. The boy looked alright, Leandros supposed, and he didn't act obnoxious, so ... "Good to meet you," Leandros said, almost two full minutes after the last words had been spoken. Internally, Leandros groaned at the stupid way in which he had said it.
The other boy looked at him oddly for a second, then burst into laughter, and took Leandros's proffered hand, clasping his hand around the wrist as Leandros did the same. "Well met," he said, snorting. Leandros grinned sheepishly in return, leaning back against the wall.
"What's this magic about, then?" Astinos questioned, looking quite curious. Leandros, about to reply with all the meager knowledge that he possessed, was cut short when a man stalked out of the house.
"You two," the man said, "you are the students? Here to learn the arts of magic?" The two children nodded, both cautious and eager. The man seemed ... odd. His voice, for one, was both soft and loud, like a whisper that boomed in the air. It had an oddly musical quality about it, ensnaring their minds and capturing their attention immediately. He was tall and well built, like all Spartan men, with dark eyes and light brown hair that fell down his back. Yet, unlike the Spartan men that Leandros knew, the man's skin was extremely pale, as if he had not spent time in the sun during the course of his life.
"I am Orestes," he said, almost as if he were reminding himself. He seemed old, close to 60 years of age, Leandros thought, but possessed some sort of quality that made it seem as if he had endured centuries. "Come inside," Orestes muttered, cutting Leandros' thoughts short,"we should begin immediately. Since I must share your time with the Agoge, there shall not be a moment of rest for you between magic and your Spartan training."
The next hour passed almost like a dream for Leandros and Astinos, as Orestes conducted a variety of tests on them, waving his hands and his staff at them, seeing something, and agreeing with himself in murmurs. He seemed vague, not only in thought, as he muttered to himself and nodded sporadically, but also in action, whirling about and waving his staff at them randomly, as if he had forgotten to do it earlier. Nonplussed, Leandros simply waited until the magic really started, noting that Astinos seemed as bored as he was.
Finally, they were told to sit. They crossed their legs and sat on the hard floor, and gazed attentively at Orestes. The man began speaking, his voice sending shivers up Leandros' spine in the darkness of the room.
"I am Orestes, as I said before. I will teach you the arts of magic." Here, Leandros and Astinos began to perk up a little. "Magic is both a boon, and a curse," Orestes whispered, a faraway look on his face, "it is atool that you can use to change the world itself, a weapon that you can use to attack and defend with ..." here he trailed off slightly, and peered at them.
"How old do you think I am?" he questioned. Even as Astinos seemed to bravely open his mouth and answer the question, Orestes plowed on, saying "I am ninety seven years old." Leandros stared at the man in disbelief."Yes," he continued, "magic has that effect. Those who possess the ability to use magic suffer the curse of living extraordinarily long lives." Leandros raised an eyebrow, but silenced himself before he said something stupid. While it seemed like nothing but an advantage to have such a long life, Leandros knew that watching as one's family died was painful. Leonidas, the King, had grieved for his father in private, but as an inquisitive little child, Leandros had stumbled in on the King during one of his weak moments. It had been humbling, to see such a powerful, good man wracked with such grief. And if Leonidas himself died, then... Leandros blinked, shaking away the morbid thoughts.
"Now," Orestes said, a distant look in his eyes, "the time has arrived for you to learn how to use magic, how to bend it to your very will and manipulate your power such that your magic is your slave. With time, you shall achieve such control over it that you will bypass the intricacies of magic, and discard the crutches that limit you. With time, you shall be the master, and your magic shall be your servant, awaiting your command."
He had said it with such slowness, with such a dreamy expression, that Leandros quivered in anticipation.
Orestes whirled about suddenly, startling the two children, and approached a roughly hewn wooden box. He lifted the lid, leaning it against the wall, and reached in. When he turned around once more, his arms were full of scrolls, which he deposited on the table.
"Each of these scrolls," Orestes said, "is a compendium of all the words in the five Runic languages given unto mankind by the Gods themselves. As did Prometheus give unto man the gift of fire, so did Zeus give unto man the gift of magic. As magic was gifted to mankind, I gift these to you. You shall need them," he said sternly, gazing at Leandros' crestfallen expression at the thought of reading, "for it is through these languages that magic is wrought. You will, over the course of your magical learning, master these languages. Do not fear, young Astinos, these are not spoken languages, only written ones. But you shall master every one of them, and commit each word to memory. Translations to Greek are provided on the scrolls, to help you understand the words better. Be mindful of the fact that these are extremely literal translations."
He handed five scrolls to Leandros, thengave the other five to Astinos. Leandros resisted the urge to crow, for the scrolls he had received were in better condition than the ones Astinos had received. Astinos, less reserved, scowled at him darkly, and returned his gaze to their teacher.
Again, Orestes spoke, his voice taking on a new tone now. He seemed almost normal, yet there was still some aspect to his personality that spoke of an eccentricity that could not be identified.
"As I mentioned, there are five runic languages. The first, named Anjain,is the language of attack. The magic of these runes have a simple purpose ... to be wielded as an offensive tool only. These are the magicsthat rip, tear and kill your enemy ... or a friend. Be extremely careful when learning this language, the repercussions of using it in jest can be terrible. A pupil of mine was executed many decades ago, for in a fit of rage, he magically attacked a fellow Hoplite with great violence, extracting his eyeballs from his skull."
Leandros and Astinos both flinched slightly at the image that their minds formed.
"The second is named Lantris, the language of defense. With these runes, those who wield magic may defend themselves from attacks of all kinds. A pupil of mine was able to save the King's late father by creating a shield of magic to stop an incoming spear thrown by an attacker. He was, unfortunately, unable to save himself, too, as he was struck down... ah, I have digressed again, so back to work. This language is, along with Anjain, the most important to a Spartan warrior. As a warrior, one equipped with the ability to perform magic, you will be able to be commanding, forceful, and win. It is extremely rare to have magical people in the army... I believe there is just one other. All others that I know of are dead. I was extremely surprised to hear that there were two of you, of the same age, capable of wielding magic. But I digress, we shall continue as planned.
"The third language is Zaila, the language of enchantment. This language is used in 'enchanting' objects, which is the art of lending an object properties such as movement, flight or more sinister ones, such as exploding. The Thebans were fond of this, enchanting a pebble to explode when near humans, and magically flinging the pebble towards groups of attacking soldiers. Those with extreme skill in this field of magic are able to use the fourth form of magic to create soldiers, and then use Zailato enchant the soldiers to fight for them. This is my field of expertise, as you shall learn later in your studies.
"The fourth language, as I mentioned earlier, deals with the creation and alteration of objects. The name of this language is Uthaila. With these runes, one is capable of astounding feats, such as turning rocks into spears, or creating a helmet when there was naught but air before. This is also used in a manner similar to Zaila, by lending objects physical properties, such as changing the color or material of an object. To give you an example, I shall once again refer to a former pupil of mine. In battle, he was forced to discard his shield, and it was lost in the fray. But with his magic, he took the wooden shield of his enemy, and transformed it into the bronze shield of Sparta. That he died later was a tragedy, for he showed great promise in wielding Uthaila."
Here, he paused, for Leandros' eyes had widened with asudden burst of understanding. Orestes nodded proudly; the child was already so logical in his thought. "Yes, young one, you have concluded correctly," he said in that airy voice of his, "armies, including the Lakedaemonian one, are known to target magic-weilders quite viciously, which is why all but one of my former students are dead. One soldier with magic is worth ten without it... and in the possession of a trained Spartan Hoplite, it is easy to see why fear is warranted. Now, back to work.
"The last language is named Mahuni, a language based on protection. The language lends itself to an art called 'warding', which means'shielding'. With magic, one is able to create an intangible shield to protect a given area. The effect can be extremely varied, from blanketing a room in silence to creating a 'ward' that kills those who try to enter uninvited. This is the one art that combines the effects of Anjainand Lantris, for it can be used to defend, and to attack."
Here he paused, looking at them to see if they had questions. Neither seemed to have overcome their awe at what they had been told, so Orestes continued, his voice both soothing and exciting as he placidly, yet vividly described the arts of which he was a master.
"The casting of magic is a simple, yet complicated procedure. As I explained, magic is wrought through the runes that I just spoke of. To explain how a spell is created, then cast, Iwill use an example. Let us say that our purpose is to create a spell that breaks a man's bone. Now, since we wish to create an attacking spell, we must work with the language of attack... Anjain. At this point, we start phrasing a sentence."
The two lads stared at Orestes dumbly. "A... A sentence?" Astinos repeated, looking doubtful. Leandros nodded along, as confused as his new friend.
Orestes simply nodded. "Now, we start off with a sample sentence, something like 'break bone at striking point'. Now, we translate the sentence, using the words from the Anjain language, and writing the runes in. Now, we have four runes, the runes for 'break', 'bone', 'location'and 'striking point'. We now look at the runes carefully,we feel the runes and appreciate them as magic itself. In our concentration, we are able to see the portions of each rune that are intrinsic to the spell being cast. In the first rune, it might be the semi-circular figure near the top... in the last, it might be the diagonal line. Then, our task is to put those crucial portions together, to form a new rune. They can be assembled together in any way, and the spell will work. But it is only when the new rune can be drawn in one motion that the spell can be cast with any significant amount of power. What this means is that when writing out the newly formed spell-rune, your quill should never retrace its steps. It may, of course, intersect with previously drawn portions, but it may never overlap in away that your quill is forced to write over the exact path taken by another portion."
Leandros, normally dreadful at visualizing and understanding concepts that were illustrated so abstractly, nodded, surprising himself with the knowledge that he actually didunderstand what Orestes had said. From the glare Astinos was giving him, he knew that he would have to explain it to the other lad later on, for Astinos was far too proud to admit that he had not understood properly. Leandros, knowing that he would have done the same had he failed to understand, gave the smallest of nods to Astinos, and turned his attention back to the teacher.
Orestes now had a small, nostalgic smile on his face. "Once your rune is completed, your work is done. Now comes the second step... casting the spell. To cast the spell, you first need to know how to project your magic. We will begin working on this once I am satisfied that you have attained areasonable level of fluency with the Runic Languages." Noting their despairing looks, he smiled indulgently, and continued, "Have faith in me, younglings, this is the path that must be walked if you are to some day become great mages. Now, back to the second step... I shall give you a brief explanation of how magic is projected. You will first learn how to access your magic, and then how to draw it out, and to form your magical aura. Then, you will learn how to direct your magic entirely out of your body, which is the art of magical projection. Now, to cast magic of any focused kind, one needs a 'magical focus'. This is generally a piece of wood, hewn from the tree whose wood is most responsive to your magic. The piece of wood can be short or long, but without this wood, there can be no focused, powerful magic cast. Persians, Thebans and others prefer to use short pieces of wood, which they call 'wands'. Spartan Mages, on the other hand, are among the few who use long pieces of wood, called 'staffs'. In fact, Spartan Mages simply have the blacksmiths construct their spears from their chosen wood, and cast their magic using their spears themselves. A fortunate fact is that even if your spear is lost or broken, using even a piece of wood unsuited to you, you can transform a rock, or a leaf, or anything into a perfect replica of the spear that was lost or broken."
Leandros gasped in awe and appreciation, followed a second later by Astinos. Orestes smiled at them knowingly, as if he had expected such a reaction. 'He probably had expected it,' Leandros mused, 'his previous students would have reacted similarly.'
"And so," Orestes continued, allowing Leandros a small smile as if he knew what the boy was thinking, "we come to the very specifics of casting magic. You recall, of course, that we had just created our new rune, and perfected its shape to allow it to be used most efficiently?" The lads nodded, and Orestes nodded along with them, continuing "Now, with the tip of the staff or wand, or in the case of Spartans, the spear, the mage traces the new rune into the air, pointed towards the enemy he wishes to strike with the spell. Simultaneously, the mage projects his magic out of his body, and through his focus... as soon as the tracing of the rune has been completed, the spell will be fired from the end of the focus. Now, there are two ways to influence the spell otherwise. Obviously, when casting with something as awkward as a metal-tipped spear, tracing the rune can be considerably difficult. In times like these, amage is able to partially compensate for the slight loss of power due to the slightly-misshapen rune by increasing his focus and determination artificially. This can be done by either shouting or speaking words that help the mind concentrate on what sort of magic you are about to cast, or by speaking it within your mind, therefore keeping the process as silent as usual. So, in this example, you could say something like 'break bone!'Understood?"
The two lads nodded, and Astinos spoke up. "Sir, you mentioned two ways of influencing the spell?"
Orestes blinked, then nodded, smiling slightly. "I must be growing forgetful in my old age," he said pleasantly, "I entirely forgot. Thank you for reminding me, young sir."Ignoring Astinos' slight blush, he said "Now, once you have cast your spell, it is possible that your enemy has moved slightly, or that your aim was slightly off. To a very small extent, perhaps no more than a hand's length in any direction, it is possible to make the spell change course after it has left your wand. This is also done through focusing, and by pointing your wand at your enemy. Once the spell has released, you keep the wand trained on your enemy for as long as is possible, and immediately switch your focus to your enemy. Visualize him in your mind, and command the magic in your spell to attack him."
The boys nodded, looking extremely pleased at the fact that someday they would be able to do all that Orestes had described.
The old man told them to stand, and he led them towards the door to his house. "You are to start studying and memorizing the Runic languages, young sires, beginning with Lantris. I shall test you each time we have class by giving you a short test. Be very sure of the fact that I do not tolerate laziness, and I do not accept excuses. If, for whatever reason, your performance on any day is lacking in my opinion, you will be punished. If you are unable to answer at least seven out of ten questions during my daily test, you will be punished. Once you have become somewhat proficient in magic, you will begin taking one lesson each week in Potions, with the Potions Master Adrastos."
The boys nodded fearfully, the sudden change in Orestes'persona having had quite a thunderous impact on them. Each vowing to do his very best to please his teacher, they made to leave. Astinos walked out, but then paused to wait for Leandros, who had been held back for some reason. Orestes and Leandros stood in the wide doorway, the teacher's eyes looking vacant once more. His fingers brushed against Leandros' scar, the jagged one on his forehead, and he pulled them away quickly.
"By Zeus," Orestes whispered, trailing off into silence."Youngling, do you know what gave you this scar?" Without waiting for Leandros'response, he continued, "You have had this for a long time, have you not? You have been touched, at such a young age, by the deadliest of magics... and you have lived."
Leandros, captivated by Orestes' voice, whispered"Sometimes, at night... I see a glint of silver, then a flash of green light. Ihear laughter, the laughter of a maniac. Then there is white... and then I am cold."
Orestes breathed deeply. "Death," he whispered, looking into Leandros' vibrant, yet frighteningly emerald green eyes, "you were touched by death. Zeus himself has marked you, has saved you from death. This scar marks the triumph of Zeus over Thanatos... the gods foughtover you! Your power is immense, youngling, I can feel it even now... you shall be exceptionally gifted in Anjainand Lantris, I should think. Run along now... wouldn't want to keep your friend waiting."
He whirled about, and stalked back into the shadows of his house. Blinking, then shaking his head, Leandros caught up to Astinos, feeling somewhat distracted for the rest of the day. The following decade of their lives would see the transformation of two brats with great ambitions into two powerful young men who would stand tall at the head of Sparta's finest.
"Foolish child," Adrastos snapped, hauling Leandros to his feet. The lad was atrociously bad at making Potions, so abysmal at it, in fact, that the art was entirely wasted on him. The cauldron he had been working on had melted, and the hot potion inside had spilled everywhere, covering the boy in repulsive pustules.
He walked to the desk none too quickly to retrieve his wand, and with a complicated wave, undid the effects of the potion. "This art is wasted on you," he said, scowling, "I shall not be teaching you about potions any longer. If you wish to continue muckingabout with your potions, feel free to do so. However, the next time this happens, I will not be the one to undo the effects on you."
Leandros, now aged almost twelve years old, smirked inwardly. For the past six months, ever since he had successfully mastered the potions that he considered to be of any use to him, he had been trying to cajole his teacher into stopping the potions lessons, and it had taken almost the destruction of the entire chamber to do so. At least, he mused, he was free of potions lessons from now.
He flashed a grin at Astinos, his friend, only to receive ascowl and a glare in return. With some guilt, he noted that Astinos was in considerable pain, covered in pustules due to the ruined potion. The lad eventually gave way, grinning at Leandros, for he knew how much his friend hated the subject. Winking at Leandros, now that Adrastos had cast the same spell on him, Astinos carefully plucked a green herb from the pile of unused ingredients. With a few deft movements, he had balled the herb up, and with aflick of his wrist, sent it flying through the air. Without so much as asplash, it landed in the teacher's cauldron. A few seconds later, the cauldron exploded, showering the room with the potion it contained, the same potion that Leandros had ruined. Within seconds, Leandros was once more covered in pustules, as was the teacher. Astinos had cheekily crouched under the table, and had avoided the flying potion for the most part.
The Spartan style of clothing did little to shield their skin from the potion.
There was a howl of fury, and the pustule covered teacher chased them out of the room, shouting lividly as they sprinted away, laughing hysterically.
"Fool," Leandros said amusedly, breathing deeply as they came to a stop, "how am I supposed to rid myself of these infernal boils?"
Astinos smirked, clearly indicating that he didn't care either way, and was forced to dodge a punch. He laughed, clapping Leandros on the back, thankfully in an area devoid of pustules, and replied "You'll have to see Orestes." Apart from Adrastos, whose opinion on the issue the two rambunctious lads already knew, the only one capable of reversing the effects of the potion was Orestes. At least, Astinos thought with a grin, the old man would get a chuckle out of the story.
Leandros scowled playfully. "Well, you're coming with me, then, since you were the cause of this fiasco!"
Twenty minutes later, Leandros was fine, and the two were talking animatedly as they walked towards the training grounds.
"I hear Leonidas shall be married soon?" Astinos inquired, raising an eyebrow.
Leandros nodded, kicking a pebble, "Aye, he is. Next month, if I understood correctly."
"You seem a bit miffed about it," Astinos teased, receiving a swat on the back of the head in response.
"Don't be stupid," Leandros sniffed, "its those bloody Ephors. They're forbidding the King to leave to be with his wife, saying that they need him to start the celebration of the Carneia next month."
Astinos nodded sympathetically, adding a few choice words to give his opinion of the Ephors, making Leandros laugh at the language he had used.
They came across two others, one, Stelios, being a close friend of theirs, the other being a casual acquaintance. The two were comparing the sizes of their biceps, and telling tall tales about how formidable they were.
Grinning, Leandros leapt in between them, and striking apose, flexed his bicep. Stelios scowled at him. "Showing off? Not all of us were allowed to carry a shield around for our fathers." He pouted playfully, grinning when Leandros lightly punched him on the shoulder.
"You're just jealous," Leandros said, sniffing haughtily,"and you're skinny," he added, almost as an afterthought. "I bet I could wrap my hand around your waist."
As Astinos laughed, Stelios glared, and snippily replied"Always took you for one of those Athenian boy-lovers, Leandros, I'm not so surprised that you'd want to put your hand on my waist."
Scowling at being one-upped, but unable to think of asuitable, biting response in time, Leandros simply scowled. Holding his head high, but smiling slightly as his friends laughed, he stalked off in the direction of the training grounds, his friends prancing along behind him mockingly, gamboling around and exaggerating Leandros' stride.
Fifteen minutes later, they were standing under the hot Mediterranean sun, their bronze skin already reddening under the harsh summer light. There was no room for playfulness here, no room for any banter. In this situation, there was nothing but solemn silence, the heavy breath of the budding soldiers and the clanking of their shields against their spears or armor.
This was the brutal training which all Spartan males underwent, the training that took them in as children and released them as men. This was the Agoge, followed by the Krypteia. Blood, sweat and tears were the sacrifice as babes were turned into warriors worthy of bearing the lambda-emblazoned Lakedaemonianshield, the xiphossword and the crimson cloak of the Spartan Hoplite. Here, they were encouraged to steal, to hurt - even kill - in order to survive the harshness of the training regime. There was no way of leaving, except through success, or death.
They now wore sandals on their feet, tied securely around their ankles. On their shins they wore greaves, thick leather wrapped around the shin and part of the calf, each side secured to the other with straps. Over the leather was a thick plate of metal, flat and simple unlike those that the real Spartan warriors wore. It extended from the ankle up to their knees, a rounded extension rising up to cover their kneecaps, extending upwards somewhat awkwardly when their knees were bent. Over the thick leather exterior was a bronze plate that was similarly curved and affixed to the leather. On their arms they wore gauntlets of a varied kind, from their wrists to about three inches from the elbow. Once again, the leather gauntlets wrapped similarly around their forearms, with a tough plate of bronze over the leather. They wore leather belts over their upper bodies, crossed over their chests tightly. When fighting at extremely close range once the Phalanx divided, their shields would be either discarded to the ground, or placed on their backs, where they would be supported by the leather harnesses. The only real clothing that they wore was the leather garb that covered their crotch and buttocks, supporting their tender areas and providing comfort. A thin leather belt around their waists supported their sheathed xiphos swords, which hung to their left, ready for a quick draw and a lethal attack. 'Reapers', the swords were called, the guttural slang accompanied by various other, equally colorful terms for the uses that it provided with its quick, harsh, threshing strokes. To hack a man's head off was to 'give a haircut', or to 'top someone off'... to remove a hand or an arm was called 'limbing'.
In their right arms they carried the Spartan spear, scaled down to approximately six feet long, with a deadly sharp spear-head on the main end, and a bulbous tip on the other. The tip was perfect for thrusting through armor and shields, penetrating through thin layers of metal, clothing, flesh and bone with ease. The end was used to eliminate the wounded, one savage downward thrust crushing through bone with ease and pulling out with enough force to tear a hole large enough to assure the death of the victim. The popular name for the blunt end of the weapon was 'lizard-sticker', so named due to the lizard-like motions an enemy made once impaled by the spear. As many asoldier had said, there was no joy that compared to the joy felt by a Spartan soldier when they plunged their eight-footer, their spear, into the chest of an enemy. In their left hand, they carried their shields, slightly scaled-down replicas of the ones that the truewarriors used. Made of a thick, heavy bronze chassis, the shields bore the lambda emblazoned across the outside, the inverted 'V' that stood for 'Lakedaemon', the name of the Spartan city-state, and the reason for which each soldier fought. Even though they had been training with these weapons for three years, none would even dare to call themselves a true Spartan warrior... not yet. The shield had two handles, one gripped in the fist, the other being a U-shaped piece of metal that encircled their forearms, gauntlet included. Left handed or not, allSpartans used their right arms to wield their spears, reserving their left for the shield. If preference was given for left-handedness, the usefulness of the phalanx - the pride and joy, the very cornerstone of Spartan military tactics -would be voided.
And finally, they wore the Spartan helmet, a formidable work of metal that protected their heads from damage. From the 'forehead' of the helmet extended a metal strip that reached down to cover their noses, called the nasal. All that could be seen was their eyes, dark and smoldering with energy and anticipation, their chins, and their mouths, lips curled into feral snarls. It made for a startling change, an intentional one. From the time of Achilles himself, Spartans had made use of this, one of their greatest weapons:phobos... fear. Where a man could look harmless, even beautiful, in the case of some, as soon as the helmet was pulled down over their brow, the smiling faces, the rosy cheeks suddenly took on a viciousness that was at once unidentifiable and terrifying. A simple hunk of metal could turn the most effeminate of men into the stuff of nightmares... and this had been exploited by Spartans for centuries. The phobiainstilled in the enemy just by sliding on a helmet added to the warlike charisma of the Spartan soldier, inspiring not just respect for the true skill in battle, but a sense of terror that struck deep in the enemy's heart. Where aglimpse of the helmet, with the animalistic eyes glaring out, was enough to instill phobia in the heart of any soldier, it had the opposite effect on the Spartan warrior. Seeing that terror in the eye of the opponent was enough to instill the necessary degree of aphobia, fearlessness, that made up for being vastly outnumbered.
Now they stood, in two rows of six fighters. On either side of this group was a similar group of lads. Each group was its own 'mini Phalanx', designed to simulate the battle style of the Spartans while still allowing all the young warriors the chance to try their hand at each role. In front of them, in the middle of the training ground, was a large pile of wood, the logs lashed together to create a cube of wooden logs eight feet tall and ten feet wide. On each side of the cube, there were eight dummies, made of stuffed cloth with metal armor covering almost every inch of their bodies.
On the instructor's signal, the two flanking groups marched to their respective sides of the cube, so that each group now faced a different set of dummies. Another command, and they fell back slightly, bringing their shields to bear, the sound of the movement blasting across the field. Shields up, knees slightly crouched,they held their spears against the curve of their rounded shields, pointing them menacingly towards the dummies. Each fighter's shield protected their body, but extended to the left enough to cover the man to their left from thigh to neck.
The instructor gazed at them, and barked out a command. Immediately, each group began moving, slamming forward with all their might They inclined their spears up immediately, keeping them completely vertical, and with their shields, rushed the 'enemy', smashing into them with incredible force. Even as the front row of each group shouted "Push!" the second row pulled back ever so slightly, and with quick thrusts over the top of their group mates' heads, planted their spears forcefully into the dummies' abdomens. As one, all three groups pulled back a few paces, the thundering of their backwards strides racing across the field to the instructor.
The attack had been swift, forceful and devastatingly effective, for all the dummies bore dents in their abdomens.
The instructor scowled. "What are you, Thespeians?!" he snarled viciously, "That was the shoddiest attack I have ever borne witness to!Again! Fuck those dummies with everything you have! With Zeus as my witness, if I spot a single one of you turdberries out of order, every single one of you come-spots will wish you had never partaken in the agoge."
His use of the word 'fuck' bore a different connotation... not one of the act of penetration, more the act of grinding, like a miller's stone. To 'fuck the dummies' was to grind them, also applicable as a slang variation of the term 'to harvest'. In the agoge, one of the most popular exercises that the Spartan boys were put through was the 'tree-fucking', the othismos drill. They would line up in a single file, shields held at port, and 'fuck' a tree until it toppled, the boy at the head of the line moving to the rear after taking enough bruising from the combined line of soldiers. Until the tree was toppled, they would not be allowed neither food nor drink, which would eventually result in a group of battered adolescents, reducing them to involuntary regurgitation and defecation, utterly shattered by the exercise. The light of dawn, rather than bring clemency to the exhausted group, would simply signal the beginning of the next day's training, without a moment of sleep. The agogetruly deserved its infamy as the most brutal system of training in existence.
Again, they repeated the action, the second row determined to make a greater impact to please the instructor. Again they slammed forward, again they raised their spears and viciously thrust them into the abdomens of the dummies. Being only twelve years old, they had neither the height advantage nor the strength to actually pierce the armor, only enough to dent it. And dent it they did, each thrust of the spear eliciting sparks and causing an almighty racket.
But it did not please their instructor. For years, each time they practiced maneuvers in a phalanx, their efforts were not sufficiently good. Rather than inspiring hate for the instructor, it simply egged them on, pushing them to become better. Time after time they kept thrusting, ignorant to the fact that the armor on the dummies was over an inch thick, as they had thought it to be perhaps a centimeter thick at best. Frustrated at their lack of success in pleasing their instructor, the heave of breath before the thrust of the spear slowly grew into a growl, then a shout.
With one particularly ferocious shout being audible over the whole mess of sound, the instructor's eyes widened slightly as a crunch of metal followed, the unmistakable sound of armor being pierced with considerable force. Less than a second later, the sound was replicated twice more, on aslightly more muted level. Marching over to see what had happened,his eyes widened even more as he examined the set of dummies to the right side of the cube.
The three dummies in the middle bore proper holes in their chests, holes that the instructor had seen previously, when Dienekesand King Leonidas himself had been but a trainee. But to see three of them in one day? One of the holes, ostensibly the one that had caused the loudest noise, was impressively large, even larger than the hole Leonidas had created when he was twelve years old. For a hole of this size, the spear had to have entirely penetrated the armor, and then have widened the hole when the spear was pulled out. The other two holes were smaller, indicating that the spear tip had penetrated all the way, but the entire tip had not plunged through the dummies.
"Who did this?" the instructor asked calmly, pointing at the two smaller holes. The trainees were now standing out of position, staring at the holes, thereby making it unclear as to who had stabbed which dummy.
The raised hands belonged to Astinos, the son of a Captain of the Spartan forces, and his friend Stelios, the nephew of the instructor. He raised an eyebrow, looking at Stelios. "You're quite skinny," he said, as if regarding his nephew properly for the first time, "start eating more."
There were a few snorts of laughter that both Stelios and the instructor ignored, though Stelios had blushed slightly.
"And this one?" questioned the instructor, gesturing at the large hole.
For a second, no one moved. Then, a hand was raised.
"Leandros," the instructor said, almost agreeing with himself. The boy showed great promise ... some day he would be a fighter as formidable as his 'father'. The boy nodded, removing his helmet, and therefore getting rid of the shadow over his brilliantly green eyes. The instructor had the urge to gulp, seeing the boy's stony face and hard eyes, but staved it off easily. He was one of those, the instructor knew, he would be one of the Skiritai, the greatest Knights of Sparta. And he would be competition to the greatest, someday, possibly surpassing even Polynikes, the two-time winner of the armored sprint at Olympeia. The boy had already surpassed Polynikesin looks, possessing a manly beauty that had already earned him the nickname'two-looker' among the young Spartan women, in reference to their opinion that'one look wasn't enough'. He was muscular for his age, even with taking into account the training that the Spartan children were put through. With a thrust that powerful, there was no question about it ... the boy would be a formidable fighter someday, much like his adoptive father, the King. Still, he would be broken and remolded, like every Spartan soldier there was. The boy had rested his shield on the ground, leaning it against his thigh, and as if fate had intervened to help the instructor, the shield promptly slipped on the churned dirt, landing face-first in the muck. The look of utter horror on the boy's face almost made the entire sequence perfect.
Striding forward, the instructor swung his fist forcefully, striking the boy squarely on the nose and sending him face-first into the dirt. The audible crack of the broken nose seemed to boom in the rigid silence. Inwardly impressed by the utter lack of even a whimper, the instructor nonetheless snarled at Leandros. "What do you think you're doing, you miserable mound of shit?"
Spitting blood, Leandros stood back up weakly, and responded"Resting my shield, lord."
Again, the instructor swung, striking the boy once more and almost lifting him off his feet before introducing him harshly to the ground."Did I allow you to stand, buttfuck?" he spat venomously, and received a slightly groaned answer in the negative. Spotting Leandros wipe some of the blood off his face, the instructor growled, flinging his foot out and connecting squarely with the boy's ribs, causing a grunted exclamation of pain. "Who the fuck said you could rest your shield or wipe that blood away, you little arsehole? You think in combat you'll be able to pause to rest your shield or wipe the blood out of your eyes? Perhaps your enemy will wait idly while you pluck a nosenugget from your nostril or wipe a turdberryfrom your crease? What the fuck do you think this is,a fucking toy? Is the agoge just a grand joke to you, you little bastard? Stand and answer me!"
There was no questioning the sudden anger that entered Leandros' eyes. The last word was a venomous sting to him, a barb that cut deep into a boy who did not know his parents. "No, lord," he ground out, rising again, "this is my shield."
The instructor's eyes widened, both from sudden anger, and from a sudden tremor that gripped him upon staring into those eyes. "'My'shield? 'My'?" Once again he blasted the boy across the face, and was once again inwardly impressed by the lack of sound that the boy emitted, and further impressed by the fact that he managed to keep his feet.
Slightly woozy from the forceful strikes to his head and the loss of blood, Leandros lifted his shield and held it high at port, straight backed and proud, and in his loudest, clearest voice, recited:
"This is my shield.
I bear it before me into battle,
but it is not mine alone.
It protects my brother on my left.
It protects my city.
I will never let my brother
out of its shadow
nor my city out of its shelter.
I will die with my shield before me
facing the enemy."
The instructor nodded in satisfaction, and walked away. "Back to work! You three, flip the dummies and regroup, then on with the maneuvers. Another shoddy display like the one before,and you'll be eating shit for the next week!"
As the day melted into the night, the budding soldiers were given a brief reprieve before partaking in the nighttime maneuvers, designed to help them fight in a perfect phalanx formation despite not being able to see. Leandros stood alone, away from the others, relaxing his muscles one by one as Dienekes and Leonidas had personally shown him. As instructed, he had not tended to his wound, nor had he wiped away the blood that now stained his cheeks, nose and mouth. From behind him, the instructor emerged. He smirked at the boy's broken face, and clapped him on the back, muttering a bare few words before stalking away.
"Your nose was too pretty before, son of Leonidas," he said,"it was a woman's nose. I like it better this way."
Sweat stained his brow, caused the sweltering heat and the constriction of his helmet under the baking Mediterranean sun. The helmet he wore was a refurbished one brought back by a Spartan soldier after a skirmish with bandits, the crack over the ear repaired by a blacksmith. It was in the Corinthian fashion that had become popular after the Trojan War nearly athousand years before, featuring long cheek-pieces and openings for the warrior's ears... both improvements being instrumental in the advancement of armor technology. Between the two cheek-pieces was a slit an inch wide through which his lips and chin could be seen, and above lay the curved hole to allow him to see. The nasal extended down just past the tip of his nose, the pointed tip almost gesturing to his bared teeth.
Aged seventeen, Leandros was now on the cusp of manhood. Standing, fully armored, under the untamable force of the Mediterranean sun, he blinked, preparing himself. He was alone, standing in one of the training fields at the beginning of a curved, sandy path hewn between the grassy field, sword sheathed with his shield and spear held tightly in his hands. A bell sounded, the high-pitched sound indicating the beginning of the test.
Growling, he swung his shield in an arc, battering away the first dummy that swung at him, the edge of his sturdy shield striking the'throat' of the dummy with enough force to dislodge the head from its wooden body. The second was met with a spear in its abdomen, embedded a full seven inches into the solid wood. He ducked the third, closely avoiding the gleaming blade that passed through the air where his head had been a second previously, and using his motion, spun quickly. Even as the dummy flew past him, he had crouched and spun, already having drawn his blade and swung it ferociously. The sound of wood splintering resounded through the air as the dummy's legs were hacked off viciously just below the knee. Standing and sheathing his sword with a quick movement, he wrenched the spear out of the fallen dummy, then fell into a slow jog as he headed towards the end of the course. Leandros grinned toothily, his natural inclination towards battle causing the satisfaction that manifested itself in the grin that now adorned his face.
The dummies flew at him faster and faster now, and twisting and turning, he undauntedly continued to meet them with exceptional skill, and a brutal lack of mercy. Where most soldiers were satisfied by merely avoiding the blade-wielding dummies and striking them with glancing blows, Spartans gave no mercy. Each dummy that flew at him was met with a blow that, if not fatal, would instantly remove a human fighter from the battle permanently. As another dummy swung at him, he heard the bell ring three times in quick succession, signaling the start of the magical part of this exercise. With a roar of effort, he batted away the oncoming sword, then swung his left arm violently, smashing the edge of his shield into the dummy's body. Such was his strength that the shield penetrated the wood and lodged its curved edge within as the dummy fell. Instead of retrieving the shield, he released it to the dummy's embrace, and with his now free left hand, drew his sword, not breaking his stride once.
Another three dummies flew at him, and he fell into the movements that had, through repeated performance, been ingrained into his mind. His left hand swung even as he leaned away slightly, allowing the swinging sword to slice through the air an inch away from him, then swiping viciously to hack the dummy's sword-arm off above the elbow, nicking its 'chest' slightly. With his right hand, he pointed the spear at the second dummy, his hand moving in a practiced motion to trace a rune in the air. As he projected his magic outward, the rune seemed to hang in the air for a fraction of a second, the shape of the rune immediately associable with the language of attack, Anjain. His brow creased slightly in concentration as he cast his magic, but the nasal of his helmet hid that from view.
The orange burst of light that was flung out of his spear-tip struck the first of the two dummies with incredible force, the simple bludgeoning spell tearing through the dummy's stomach. Without the time to cast another spell at the second dummy, approaching him fast, he simply stepped forward and stuck the spear through the dummy's throat, the sharp metal tip emerging from the back of the dummy's neck as it fell limply to the ground. Leandros planted his foot on its chest, and with a tug, tore the spear out of his throat.
Whoosh! Whoosh!Whoosh! Whoosh!
Again and again, for the next half hour, Leandros fought his way through dummy after dummy, tearing them apart one after the other. His every strike was lethal, his every spell tearing into the 'enemy' with unforgiving force. On the periphery of his vision, he could see Orestes and Astinos waving their staffs in tandem with Aiolos, the only other student of Orestes' who still lived. Aiolos had been conscripted for this training exercise, as they needed a third person to keep the action fluid. They were furiously repairing the dummies and reanimating them, causing them to approach Leandros and swing at him with deadly sharp blades. This was Sparta... here, when a soldier trained, they learnt to fight for their lives at all times.
Finally, the bell clanged again, and all fellsilent, save for the ringing of the bell, which still carried through the air. The last of the dummies fell to the ground, Leandros' sword sticking out of its head, the tip thrust a good few inches into its 'forehead'. Covered in sweat, Leandros retrieved, then sheathed his sword. Flipping his spear around, he rammed the tip into the ground so that it stood, shaking slightly. Orestes approached, as Leandros took off his helmet, breathing in deeply and running his hand through his hair, settling it behind his ears, where it fell down to a few inches below his shoulders. Breathing heavily after the physically and magically demanding test, he sat down heavily. Swearing softly under his breath as his sweat-slicked arm pressed against the shallow gash on the side of his body, he quickly examined it. He had, quite stupidly, underestimated the reach of one dummy, and had therefore allowed the tip of its blade to slice neatly through his skin. It was a minor injury, but it stung irritatingly.
Orestes stopped a few feet away, and regarded him silently, his large eyes peering into Leandros' own. Then, he nodded. "Well done, Isuppose," he allowed, then stared disdainfully at the small wound. "Get that cleaned up," he muttered, then walked away, muttering to himself about something or the other. Leandros did not see the look of disbelief on Aiolos' face, nor the pride in Orestes' eyes... nor did he see the grin that stretched the King's face that night, when Orestes recounted the test to him.
An arm entered Leandros' view, and he gratefully took it, allowing Astinos to pull him to his feet. Carrying their equipment back to the sheds, they bantered playfully, then headed towards the pond. It was slowly growing dark, but the fact that it was the summer season meant that it would be a few hours yet before it would be too dark to see. Stripping off the meager clothing that they wore, they dove into the water, grateful for the coolness of the liquid against their skin.
They spent the next twenty minutes in silence, either swimming or simply floating on their backs, until Leandros broke the silence."Astinos," he said, scratching at the recent stubble accumulating on his cheeks,"I think the King intends to put me through the trials."
Astinos, who had been dog-paddling nearby, now stilled, staring at his friend. "You must be joking," he replied, looking incredulous,"I thought he had no intention of making you regent? After all, he has a son now."
It was true, Leandros mused. Gorgo, the beautiful, wise Queen of Sparta had borne the King an Heir last autumn. The boy was nearing his first birthday, and Leandros had had the opportunity to see the child a few times. As Aiolos put it, the King had not been in such high spirits since his successful return from battle a few years ago, where a coalition of Greek armies had rejected the Persian onslaught at Marathon. That had been a stunning victory, and had served to once again assert the utter superiority of Spartans as a fighting force. Rumors now had it that Xerxes, son of the slain Persian king Darius, sought to attack Greece once more. Leandros blinked away thoughts of war and glory, shaking his head to return his mind to the present.
"I cannot explain it myself," he muttered, stepping out of the water and sitting on a rock to dry himself under the sun's glare. His fingers found the scars on his back as he scratched at amosquito bite, scars left from the beatings incurred during his training, and from the 'pain-resistance' trials. It was always comforting to touch them... for someone such as Leandros, who had no idea where they came from,it was reassuring to know that no matter what happened, his training could never be taken away from him, and that he always had a home among the Lakedaemonians.
"What gives you that idea?" Astinos inquired, following his example and taking a seat a few feet away.
"I've heard murmurs," Leandros replied as he squeezed the water out of his hair, "and as I walked into the King's home yesterday, Ioverheard him talking to your father. The Captain asked "You're sending the boy out on the next full moon?" and the King said he would. Of course, there was no mention of the trials, but what else could he have referred to?"
Astinos said nothing, he simply shrugged. Either way, Leandros knew, it was of little consequence. Basil, King Leonidas' son, would be King someday, and Leandros would serve him with equal pride.
Leandros was sure that his feet were frostbitten now... they had turned purple a day ago, and he had lost all feeling in them hours before that. Yet, he trudged on through the snow, his each gasp releasing a cloud of steam from his cracked, dry lips. Luckily, the wolf skin kept his chest warm, or he would have collapsed by now. What had started as a two-day trial had quickly developed into a four-day excursion, as it had taken days to track the wolf through the blizzard that continually covered its tracks. His mind was filled with energy now, for he now walked through the streets of Lakedaemon towards the courtyard of the King's abode. His left arm was tucked into the wolf-skin, and his right held the makeshift spear that he had crafted out of vines, whittled stones and a sapling, which he now used almost as a crutch.
Life would have been made much easier if he had been able to use magic, but he had been forbidden to do so, and the King's word was law. It had taken him almost four days to return, four days of trudging about in the snow, barely wearing clothing at all, and forced to keep himself safe without anything but a flimsy spear. Yet, when confronted with the dire wolf, his aim had been true, and his grip had been sure. The spear had struck the beast in its heart, and with the force of his thrust, had torn through almost a foot of flesh and bone to emerge from its back.
Walking with his head held high as the townsfolk saluted or nodded to him, he winced inwardly. The Olympics were in seven months, and as had been made clear to him by multiple people, including the King, he was expected to do Spartaproud again. Having triumphed in four different disciplines among the trials held in Sparta, and having beaten even Polynikes himself, the expectations were high. Given his current state, having starved for a few days, with frostbite having struck his feet, and the cold having induced a painful cough, it would be a few months before his physical fitness would return to normal. And through those months, he would have to report for continued training on a daily basis. The next few months would be tiring, he knew, but looked forward to them all the same.
Now he stopped, having walked through the arch before the King's courtyard. He knelt on one knee and bowed his head, trying to keep his body from shaking due to the cold as the King's squires relieved him of his wolf-skin 'clothing'. Looking up, he met the intense gaze of King Leonidas, and held it, as was custom in this ritual. An Ephorsprinkled ash on his forehead, and Leandros was grateful for the strong wind, for the ash was blown away before it could enter his eyes and interrupt the ritual. Disgusting as the Ephor'spresence was to him, it was necessary for the action to be regarded as official.
"My King," Leandros spoke, aware of his teeth chattering as he tried to talk, "I present myself before you, successful in my trials."
"Rise, Leandros, Regent of Sparta," the King spoke, then finally allowed a slight smile on his face. Ten feet away, Gorgo released her breath, and smiled at Leandros. Clutched to her bosom, the Heir to the Throne of Sparta slept on.
Leandros rose shakily, now unable to hide the tremors that wracked his body, and was grateful for the few seconds of warmth as the King embraced him tightly.
"I knew," the King whispered, "when I found you, that you were destined for great things, Leandros. May the gods look favorably upon you. Now, get some rest, you're about to collapse."
Smiling weakly, Leandros left the Royal compound, forced to lean on Astinos' shoulder to make it to his bed.
Sign up to rate and review this story