Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer -- Chapter 1, Scene 2

“Master! Master! A catastrophe!” The slave burst into the symposium, at which his master was hosting a dozen important guests. “A horrible accident!” the slave gasped out.

Archilochos’ symposia were famous for the quality of their food, entertainment, and conversation. Wealthy, well-traveled, and active in politics, Archilochos prided himself on employing the best cook and serving the most coveted wines in all Corinth, because he found both useful bait to pull men into his circle. He was, at the moment, exceedingly pleased to have snared one of the Spartan kings, Demaratus.

King Demaratus was not a handsome man. He was short and bowlegged and had a very large nose. Aware of this, he was not vain about his person, and he dressed in the practical clothes of a common ranker in the Spartan army, without any hint of his royal status. He braided his hair from the roots, as was custom, and bound the tips with tarred twine like marines did. Despite this almost defiant refusal to dress like a king, however, he was very conscious of his royal dignity and sensitive to slights to his status.

Despite the superficial differences between Demaratus and the elegant and cultured Archilochos, they found common ground in their opposition to the other Spartan king’s plans to make war on Athens. They met tonight to discuss ways of putting an end to the ill-advised adventure; and Archilochos deplored the unprecedented interruption of a slave, who had no business in the symposium for any reason.

“Stop babbling!” Archilochos snapped at the hysterical old slave.

But the slave was Lychos’ tutor, the man who had watched over him when he was growing up, and he was far too distressed to calm down. “Lychos has been gored by a wild boar. They say he was tossed around in the air, speared on the tusks of the boar, and his guts were spilling out of him!”

“Who says? What are you talking about?” Archilochos started to focus on what the man was saying.

“Master Lychos is bleeding to death! He―”

“Calm down and give me a coherent report!” Archilochos ordered, alarm rather than outraged propriety lending his voice an edge now.

Except for Demaratus, Archilochos’ guests were all Corinthian aristocrats who knew their host’s son personally; they exchanged horrified glances. Even Demaratus knew that his host had lost one son at sea, and guessed that this youth was Archilochos’ heir.

“He was riding beyond Acrocorinth when his horse shied at the sight of a boar, and he was thrown to the ground, and the boar gored him!” The slave was trying desperately to get his master to do more than stare at him in horror.

“Where is he?” Archilochos demanded.

“In the forest on the far side of Acrocorinth!”

“He’s still out there? But how did you hear of this?” Archilochos demanded, rearing up from his couch.

“A Spartan! A Spartan found him and killed the boar, but he could not bring him back. He only just managed to capture his horse and ride to Pytheas for help.”

“Pytheas?”

“Of course!” The slave was impatient with his master’s slowness. “Lychos was riding out with Chambias, and Chambias gave instructions to his own house.”

“Why didn’t he come himself?” Archilochos demanded in terrified outrage, his anger an expression of his unfathomable fear. He could not lose this son, too!

“Chambias broke his knee falling from his horse. Lychos―”

“They left him out there? Bleeding to death?” Archilochos grabbed for his himation, fumbling for his sandals.

Demaratus had never seen a grown man look so lost and helpless.

“The other Spartan and Chambias stayed with him, but we must get help to him! Master, we must get the surgeon!”

“Don’t give me orders, slave!” Archilochos snarled back, and only then remembered his guests. He turned to them, unseeing, muttered “excuse me,” and was gone, the old slave in his wake.

The other men collected their himations and slipped their feet into their sandals. The owner of the flute girls shooed them away while they chattered excitedly like a flock of chickens. Demaratus, however, took his time. While the other guests departed, he tied his own sandals and deliberately wrapped his thick red himation around him. Then he set his cross-crested helmet on the back of his head, the nosepiece on his forehead, and followed the others out.

Just as he had expected, he found his host in the outer courtyard. By now Archilochos had sent for a surgeon and ordered his horse tacked up, while a crowd of slaves collected in the courtyard carrying stretchers and torches. Demaratus moved calmly into the maelstrom of activity swirling around Archilochos.

Archilochos was in no mood for any distraction, and he scowled in annoyance at the Spartan king. “Forgive me, but this must take precedence—”

Demaratus waved him silent. “Of course. I merely wanted to reassure you. If two Spartiates were at the scene of the accident, then you can be sure they did all that could be done to save your son.”

“You don’t even know who they were! How can you be so sure? Ordinary soldiers are no surgeons!”

“Spartiates have gone through the agoge, and they are huntsmen. They know how to treat wounds caused by sword and spear, claws, teeth, and tusks, as well as how to handle other common injuries from sprains to broken bones. They will have done all that is possible for your son until a surgeon can see him.”

Archilochos was in no mood to listen, so Demaratus stepped back and let him go, but he called for his own horse. His helot attendant came forward at once, having anticipated the order and having already tacked both their horses. Demaratus swung himself easily onto the animal’s back and followed in the wake of Archilochos’ noisy party with their many torches.

They did not have far to ride. Just behind the huge Doric temple to Apollo, they stopped beside a house ablaze with torchlight. All the neighbors had lit torches, too, and slaves filled the street; the women crowded the balconies, shrouded in their shawls so that only their eyes showed.

Archilochos was met at the door by a man with long white hair and a flowing beard, who assured Archilochos that his own rescue party had set out a quarter of an hour earlier. Archilochos, however, was not calmed, and insisted on following them. Proceeding at a jogging pace along the long avenue leading out of the city to the west, they overtook the priest’s rescue party before it had passed out of the city walls.

Demaratus tagged along, unseen by the others, until he suddenly cantered past the rest of the party to the young man who was leading them. He drew up sharply, his horse’s hooves skidding on the paving stones. “Alkander! You? You killed this boar?”

“It was Leonidas who killed him. I merely pinned him down.”

They gazed at one another while the Corinthians came to a halt in confusion.

“What is this? We must hurry!” Archilochos demanded, riding up beside Demaratus.

“Indeed. And so we shall. Let me introduce my wife’s brother, Alkander.” Demaratus hesitated, but then he decided it would eventually come to light anyway. “And you need not fear that your son’s rescuers were ‘ordinary soldiers.’ The young man who killed the boar is none other than Leonidas, son of Anaxandridas and brother to King Cleomenes.”

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