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 26, 2011

Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer -- Chapter 1, Scene 4

Cleombrotus was Leonidas’ twin brother. The news that Leonidas had killed a wild boar reached him in his tent, where he was dicing with his seven mess-mates. Hearing that Leonidas had broken an arm in the encounter, Cleombrotus snorted and remarked contemptuously, “Lucky someone was around to rescue him from worse harm!”

When they were little, Cleombrotus had been significantly bigger and stronger than Leonidas and had used both advantages to bully his brother. In the agoge they had been separated and rarely met; but Cleombrotus continued to excel, particularly at boxing, eventually winning in the youth competitions at Olympia. He had won the honors at the Feast of Artemis Orthia as well, and he carried that title and trophy for life. Throughout these early years he had looked down on his smaller twin, sneering at him for failing to be elected herd leader and for failing to win honors or Olympic laurels. But last year everything had turned upside down and bitter, when both youths were twenty-year-old instructors at the agoge, called eirenes. Cleombrotus lost his command after a case of unprecedented insubordination by his unit, resulting in it being turned over to his twin brother.

“That’s not what Alkander is saying,” noted the man who had brought Brotus the news.

“Alkander? That trembler! He p-p-probably shit at the sight of the b-b-boar and didn’t notice what was g-g-going on.” Cleombrotus imitated the stutter that Alkander had had as a boy, to the amusement of his companions.

When they stopped laughing, however, the messenger put him right. “You’d better come see the carcass first, Brotus. It’s huge! It took four men to carry it, and the tusks are at least two feet long. Alkander held it down with his spear while Leonidas stabbed it with his sword. They weren’t hunting and didn’t have a proper boar spear with teeth—just their standard-issue war spears, which were still in it when Demaratus got there.”

“Demaratus? What the hell was Leonidas doing hunting with the Eurypontids?” Cleombrotus made it sound like treason.

No one bothered to answer, because everyone knew that Leonidas and Alkander had been friends since boyhood, long before Alkander’s sister married Demaratus. “Come and see for yourself,” Brotus’ comrade suggested sensibly, and they all scrambled out of the tent to take a look.

Torches were forbidden in a Spartan camp, no less than in the city of Sparta, but they didn’t have much trouble finding the source of commotion. It was, after all, not yet late, and most men had not gone to sleep. The arrival of Demaratus with this immense trophy had brought many men out of their tents, and word had rapidly spread that Leonidas had killed it.

Despite himself, Cleombrotus was impressed. The boar was the largest specimen he had ever seen. Nor could he comfort himself that the beast was old, decrepit, or lame. Not a hair was gray, and there was not one other injury on its body besides the ones sticky with fresh blood. The boar was muscular, with bristling black hair and eyes that—even in death—were full of power and contempt for lesser creatures. How could Little Leo have vanquished such a beast? For the first time in his life, it occurred to Brotus that Leonidas might have qualities he had failed to notice up to now. Leonidas, he registered, might be more than he appeared to be.

 

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