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, September 2, 2012

"A Boy of the Agoge" - Excerpt from Chapter 1

At age seven, Cleombrotus and Leonidas were enrolled in the agoge. Dido had warned him this would happen, and she had always looked sad when she told him, but she hadn’t been able to tell him very much about it.  She was a helot, after all, and no one in her family had ever been allowed to go to the agoge.  Nor could Leonidas’ father tell him much – if he had dared ask him - because the heir apparent to the throne was exempt from attending the agoge and so King Anaxandridas had never gone.  As for Dorieus, he didn’t waste time talking to his youngest brothers, so neither of the twins had any idea what to expect except that it meant leaving home and living in the agoge barracks with other boys their age.
One day just after the winter solstice, their father came for them dressed in his armour and scarlet cloak. He was already a great age by then, much more than three score. He had white hair that he wore braided in the Spartan fashion, but it was so thin that his plaits were tiny little strings, and his scalp was almost completely bare. The skin of his scalp was flecked with brown. He could no longer stand upright; the weight of his breastplate appeared to be too great for his shoulders and dragged him forward. He kept himself partially upright by using a T-shaped walking stick that he propped under his right armpit.
Without a word he signalled his twin sons, who had been told to be ready for him, and with one on either side of him he walked out of the palace. At once they were caught in the cold wind that blew down off the Taygetos. Leonidas clutched his himation tighter around him, but his father shook his head.  “Better get used to the cold, boy. You’ll not be allowed to keep such a thick himation in the agoge.”
Leonidas gazed up at the old man, who he knew was his father but who was still a stranger to him, and started to become alarmed. 
The king led his sons to an imposing building standing directly on the Agora, opposite the dancing floor and at right angles to the Council House and the Ephorate. Although given the same prominence as these buildings, it lacked the lovely colonnade and elegant portico of the government buildings. Instead, the entrance was supported by three ancient Kouros. All had once been painted but were now naked stone, except for some remnants of colour in the curls of their hair. Boys of various ages with shaved heads and rough, black himations came and went in groups. Leonidas noticed that despite the snow lying in the shadows, the boys were all barefoot. This was going to be terrible, he registered.
They entered an office. An elderly man in Spartan scarlet sat behind a desk. Several middle-aged men stood about discussing things earnestly. At the sight of King Anaxandridas, the others fell silent, and the elderly man behind the desk got to his feet respectfully.
“Here they are,” the king announced simply. “My youngest boys.”
All eyes were drawn to the two boys, whom Anaxandridas now pushed forward.
“You’d never know they were twins!” one of the men exclaimed.
Hardly a brilliant observation, Leonidas thought. Brotus was dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a stubborn set to his jaw and a compact body thatas one of the men immediately observedmade him look a good year older than his twin. Leondias was not blond, just brown, but he was much lighter in colour than his brother and his eyes were hazel. He was also ten pounds lighter and two inches shorter than Cleombrotus.
“Who’s this fine fellow here?” They all focused on Brotus.
“Cleombrotus,” the king said.
“Then this is Leonidas.” The oldest of the men walked around his desk and stepped closer to look intently at Leonidas. Leonidas wanted to step back, but he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. In a vice-like grip it held him in place. Leonidas stared rather terrified up into the headmaster’s face, but Leonidas decided that whatever the man thought of him (and he did not say), he did not seem hostile.
The king took his leave. It was the last time Leonidas ever saw him up close. A little more than a year later he was dead.

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