Chambias saw his death in the malicious eyes of the black beast.
Lychos flung himself off his horse, grabbing his cavalry javelin from his back. He landed between the boar and his friend and hurled the javelin with all his strength. It was a gallant but futile gesture. The cavalry javelin was not designed to penetrate the tough hide of a boar.
The javelin glanced off the boar’s shoulder without even slowing him down. An instant later, the boar rammed his tusks into Lychos’ belly, and the youth crumpled forward.
The boar lifted his head with Lychos draped across his now bloody tusks and shook his head from side to side, with slow deliberate shakes. The beautiful gored youth screamed in agony as his guts were ravaged by each jerk.
Chambias staggered to his feet, screaming. He tore his chlamys off his back and tried waving it at the boar in a frenzied attempt to distract him. His friend’s blood was splattering everywhere as he hung like a limp doll on the tusks of the boar. Only his rasping screams gave evidence that he still lived.
Chambias could barely stand because of his shattered knee. His own two javelins had spilled onto the ground when he fell, and they now lay out of reach. He had no other weapon on him but his knife—a weapon far too short to damage a boar of this size, even if he could have thrown it with accuracy. He knew he had no chance of saving his friend or himself.
Out of nowhere, two men appeared on the run. They paused only long enough to grasp what was happening, and then reversed their spears from an underhand to an overhand grip and started to advance on the still-raging boar with a deliberation that made Chambias scream at them. “Hurry! He can’t last much longer! Hurry!”
The two men ignored him. His friend was dying with each shake of the boar’s massive head, yet the two men approached only with wary deliberation. Then, with a single exchanged glance, they raised their spears in a double-handed grip. The sun glinted briefly on the tips of the spearheads, and they brought their arms crashing down in almost perfect unison.
The boar saw the danger too late. He managed to toss the limp body of Lychos into the nearest gorse bush and turn toward his attackers, but by then they had already struck. The boar crumpled onto his right haunch, but he was far from dead. Grunting his outrage, the boar shook his bloody tusks and flailed wildly with his forelegs, trying to regain his footing.
From out of the underbrush, the Spartans were suddenly joined by a hound. She threw herself into the fray without a second of hesitation. While the men impaled the boar, pinning it to the earth with the weight of their bodies, the dog leaped onto the boar’s back and tried to bite down on the spine just behind the boar’s head. Yet the wild animal was not subdued.
It was now evident to Chambias that his rescuers had not come prepared for boar hunting. They had attacked with ordinary war spears. These did not have a cross guard and were thinner, less sturdy. Chambias groaned in horror as he heard the unmistakable crack of a spear breaking.
“Hold him!” the man with the broken spear shouted urgently to his companion. The latter flung his weight forward onto his own spear a second time, while his friend stepped back, reversed his spear, and used the butt end―the “lizard sticker”―to gore the boar a second time.
This, too, failed to kill the boar, who with an abrupt, twisting motion sent the dog catapulting through the air. The man with the long spear gave a shout of alarm, realizing he could not hold the boar alone much longer, and instantly the man with the broken spear abandoned it to draw his sword.
With alarm Chambias registered that the sword was ridiculously short; yet that did not deter the swordsman. The man lunged forward and sideways―not, as Chambias expected, for the jugular, but to thrust the sword deep into the chest cavity of the boar from behind the right elbow. He ran the sword in all the way to the hilt. The boar thrashed violently with his forelegs one more time; but then the life went out of his eyes, and he sank down on the ground with an audible thud.
The two strangers were breathing very hard and dripping sweat, as they stared at the massive beast they had only with difficulty managed to dispatch between them. Their red chitons and himations identified them as Spartans, but Chambias could think only of his friend. “Lychos! Lychos!” He staggered forward, dragging his injured leg.
His cries and sobs of pain drew the attention of his rescuers, and they went over to where Lychos had been flung. Together they retrieved the bloody body from the bushes and stretched it out in the small clearing. The hound, having recovered from her toss into the bushes, ran frantically around them, panting in evident agitation.
“Is he alive?” Chambias asked, still hobbling painfully over.
“Yes,” came the succinct answer; and then as Chambias got nearer, he could hear and see for himself that his friend moaned and writhed, trying to stanch the bleeding and pain in his abdomen. The two Spartans, meanwhile, had opened Lychos’ belt and sliced through the Egyptian linen of his bright yellow chiton to get a look at the wound. Chambias tasted his lunch in his mouth as his friend’s innards slithered out of the gaping wound. The Spartan who had dispatched the boar deftly shoved the innards back inside the wound and held it firmly closed in a grip that made his knuckles go white under the blood of boar and man mixed together. Meanwhile, the other set about tearing one of their red cloaks into bandage strips and winding these firmly around Lychos’ torso. Lychos screamed in pain as they worked, but they ignored him for his own good. When they finished, a broad band of scarlet held the wound closed and slowed the hemorrhaging. The second man then yanked off his himation and covered Lychos with it, tucking it in all around him and even winding it around his head so that he looked like a corpse, with only his face exposed.
“Will he live?” Chambias asked.
The Spartans looked over their shoulders and up at Chambias. To Chambias’ astonishment, the two men looked hardly older than himself. One possessed the kind of classical features that the sculptors liked to put on statues of Apollo. He had short, curly blond hair, bright blue eyes, and gentle lips. Chambias couldn’t help thinking he must have had lovers fighting over his favors as a boy. The other was less beautiful, with light-brown, coarse hair and green-gold eyes; but he was taller and broader than his companion, and he was the one who had thrust his short sword deep enough into the boar to kill it. It was also this youth who now replied. Without answering Chambias’ question, he stated, “You’d better sit down and let us tend to your knee.” He nodded toward Chambias’ leg, already discolored and swelling.
Chambias didn’t have the strength to protest. He hobbled toward a large boulder where, with an involuntary gasp, he eased himself down. The Spartans followed, the blond already working deftly to rip up what was left of the cloak they had shredded to bind Lychos’ wounds. When he started bandaging Chambias’ knee, however, the pain was so intense that Chambias had to bite down hard to keep from crying out. Everyone knew the Spartans scorned anyone who couldn’t endure pain with equanimity, and Chambias did not want to disgrace himself or his city. Despite what he wanted, however, he was trembling all over, and he could not hide that. He stammered an apology, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I’m not usually like this.”
While the blond Spartan continued with the bandaging, the other tossed Chambias a smile and remarked, “Hopefully, you don’t regularly get yourself nearly killed! Don’t worry about it.”