Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clich├ęs and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer -- Chapt. 1, Scene 1, Excerpt 6

Chambias felt guilty for his earlier hostility to the Spartans. “Thank you. We would both be dead if you hadn’t happened along.”

The Spartan’s expression grew serious again. “Your friend needs a surgeon. Are you from around here?”

Chambias nodded and then, remembering his manners, added, “I’m Chambias, son of Pytheas; and that is Lychos, son of Archilochos.”

The Spartans flinched―as if they recognized the name―but made no comment. The spokesman merely asked, “Will your horses run home and alert someone about the accident, or should we chase after them?”

“Mine will probably run home. Lychos’ mare is better about staying.”

“I’ll see if Beggar and I can catch her,” the darker Spartan said to his companion; and whistling to his hunting dog, he set off. She was one of the big Kastorian hounds bred in Lacedaemon and admired around the world for their acute sense of smell, tenacity, and intelligence. This one had an ugly white patch on her face that would have made a wealthy Corinthian scorn her, Chambias noted; but she had certainly attacked the boar fearlessly. Now she bounded after her master with an eagerness and agility that was both beautiful and touching.

Chambias watched man and hound disappear behind the stunted trees and then turned awkwardly to the remaining Spartan. He found it disconcerting that because Spartans all wore identical red chitons and cloaks, he could not tell if this young man was rich or poor, the son of someone powerful or powerless. Up to now, he had always been able to tell at a glance whether he was dealing with someone of consequence. Now he could not.

The strange young man drew a goatskin off his back and offered it to Chambias, who accepted gratefully, only now conscious of how thirsty he was.

“Are you with the Corinthian army?” the Spartan asked.

“Not yet; we’re both ephebes―in the cavalry,” Chambias added proudly. “And you?”

“Peers,” the Spartan answered simply—and inadequately from Chambias’ point of view—but the yapping of a dog distracted them and they turned in the direction of the noise. A few moments later the other Spartan reappeared, leading Lychos’ black mare. “If you can climb up on that rock,” he suggested to Chambias, “you should be able to mount despite your leg.”

Chambias looked at the indicated rock, at his friend’s sweating and clearly nervous mare, and then down at his knee. The mere thought of trying to mount and ride with this knee made him nauseous. If the horse spooked and he was thrown a second time, it would be unbearable. He shook his head. “Can’t either of you ride for help? I can direct you to my father’s house. It is directly behind the Temple to Apollo; he is the chief priest.” Chambias felt it was important that these Spartans realize that even though he was not as rich and important as Lychos, he was not a nobody.

The Spartans glanced at one another, and for a moment Chambias feared that neither of these ordinary Spartans was capable of riding; most Corinthian foot soldiers had little skill with horses. But then the darker of the two decided, “You had better go, Alkander. Beggar and I have a better chance of fighting off any predators.”

The Spartan addressed as Alkander, the Apollo-like blond, frowned and seemed inclined to contradict, but the other Spartan shook his head once and the blond accepted the decision. Wordlessly and effortlessly he vaulted onto the mare before turning to Chambias for more instructions. These given, he trotted away, leaving Chambias with the other Spartan.

The latter went at once to check on Lychos, but quickly turned back to Chambias. “Could you lend your friend your chlamys? He is dangerously cold.”

“Of course.” Chambias was ashamed he had not noticed himself. The Spartans had, after all, already shredded one of their cloaks for bandages and wrapped Lychos in the second. Chambias pulled his short cape off his back and the Spartan came and took it from him. The Spartan seemed to hesitate as he noticed that the garment was of the finest wool, dyed a costly turquoise blue with an elaborate border. It was obviously very expensive. “It’s all right,” Chambias insisted. The Spartan returned to Lychos and, kneeling on one knee beside him, carefully tucked the chlamys around him.

Now that he was without a cloak, Chambias noted that the sun was behind the western mountains and it was getting chilly. He looked again at Lychos, who was rolling his head back and forth in evident pain. Chambias registered for the first time that it could take hours for someone to get here with a stretcher or litter. By then Lychos might be dead. Even if the bleeding had slowed, only the Gods knew what damage had been done to his insides. It would also soon be dark and, as the Spartan had already hinted, there were other wild beasts that might be drawn by the smell of blood.

The Spartan seemed to sense what was going through Chambias’ head, because he abruptly broke in on his thoughts. “Alkander is a good rider, and we visited the Temple to Apollo this morning. He will find your father’s house without trouble. Meanwhile, it’s a fine night. The only thing I’m worried about is that the carcass of the boar may draw scavengers.” He pointed to the wheeling vultures overhead. Finishing his thought, he added, “I’ll build a fire to warm your friend, keep the wild animals away, and help Alkander find us again. Do you have bears or wildcats here?”

“No bears; but the cats, although small, are very vicious. And there are wolves, of course.”

The Spartan nodded and started to collect dried wood, of which there was plenty. As he worked, Chambias noticed that he was holding his left arm cradled at his waist and working only with his right hand.

“Are you hurt?” Chambias asked as the Spartan went down on one knee to build the fire, still cradling his left arm.

“The boar broke my left forearm as I went in for the kill. That’s why I sent Alkander for help.”

Chambias was ashamed to think that they were both suffering from broken bones and the other was doing all the work. “Can I help?” he asked.

“If you could strike the flint it would be a big help,” the Spartan admitted with a smile.

Chambias looked blank.

“It’s here. In my hip pouch.” The Spartan indicated the leather pouch that hung from the right-hand side of his belt.

Chambias hobbled over, reached inside, and withdrew the flint; but the Spartan had to explain how to use it, and it took Chambias several tries before he managed to strike a spark. It took many more tries before he ignited the pile of dry leaves and twigs the Spartan had so carefully prepared. “I’ve never done this before,” Chambias said, defensively excusing his obvious incompetence. “We have slaves to light our fires.”

The Spartan nodded ambiguously, blowing gently to stoke the fire and then feeding it from the pile of kindling he had collected. Only after it was going solidly did he again turn his attention to the Corinthian, suggesting, “We might as well eat some of that boar.”

This was going too far. It wasn’t just that Chambias hadn’t the faintest idea of how to go about flaying a carcass; he also did not think it a proper task for a youth of his station. No priest sullied his hands with the meat of the sacrificial beasts. His father employed no less than three professional butchers to flay and filet the sacrificial animals. They were skilled men, but all were slaves or former slaves.

The Spartan apparently understood his look of outrage and shrugged. “If you aren’t hungry, we don’t need to bother. I can go without.” He then settled down to feed the fire.

“Have you spent the night out in the open before?” Chambias asked, glancing nervously at the darkening sky.

“Many times; haven’t you?”

Chambias shook his head. It had never occurred to him that spending the night out in the open might be something desirable. In his experience only beggars, vagabonds, and shepherds slept out at night. It was a mark of status that he had never done so―but somehow this Spartan had managed to turn things on their head and make it sound like a deficit of some kind.

So they sat in silence, the Spartan feeding wood to the fire with one hand while his bitch gnawed happily at the carcass, and Chambias miserably listening to his best friend die.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer - Chapter 1, Scene 1 - Excerpt 5

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.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

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

“But it would be exciting to go to war!” Chambias admitted to his friend Lychos with a grin, as he let his stallion stretch out his neck.

The two Corinthian youths, sons of leading families, were returning from Acrocorinth, where they had been trying to get a glimpse of the Spartan army. The Spartans had invoked the defensive treaty with Corinth and her other allies that required the allies to follow wherever Sparta led. For days now, allied contingents had been pouring into Corinth in response to the Spartan summons. Punctually at the start of the full moon, the Spartans themselves arrived.

As the sons of wealthy men on the brink of manhood, Chambias and Lychos were enrolled as ephebes in the Corinthian cavalry, and they took a keen interest in the impending war. They were particularly curious about the Spartans, because they flattered themselves that they understood “a thing or two” about things military, and the reputation of the Spartan army was unmatched anywhere in Hellas. They wanted to see it for themselves.

And so, taking their flashiest, most high-strung horses and carrying their javelins to underline their status as combatants, the two young men had set out to inspect the Spartan camp. They dressed in bright, patterned chitons to show off their status and wore their short cavalry capes, called chlamys, which fluttered straight out when they galloped. They also wore broad-brimmed leather hats and boots that laced halfway up their shins―all of the best quality.

They were soon disappointed. Unlike the troops of the other Peloponnesian allies, the Spartans set up a camp outside the fortress and then put up sentries that prohibited entry to the camp. Lychos and Chambias had been turned away.

The day being young and the weather good, however, they elected to ride around the back of the camp into the surrounding countryside to get away from the bustle, dust, and stink of the overcrowded city. They galloped a bit to wear off some of their frustration and energy, but now they let the horses walk on a long rein so they could talk.

Lychos didn’t share Chambias’ enthusiasm for the impending war because his father, the chief polemarch of Corinth, had returned from a symposium the previous night fuming that the Spartans wanted to invade Attica and bring down Athens’ democratic government. Lychos eagerly explained to his friend what he had learned from his outraged father. “The only reason for this war is King Cleomenes’ injured pride―or his loins. My father says there are rumors that Cleomenes has his eyes on the wife of the Athenian leader, Isagoras.”

“I thought Cleomenes was married to the most beautiful woman in Sparta! Didn’t people talk of a second Helen?” Chambias countered.

“That was years ago! She’s had several children and is probably fat and sagging now,” Lychos retorted with the wisdom of his nineteen years, his views reflecting the sum of his experience with women―his mother, grandmothers, and aunts.

Chambias nodded agreement, his experience being no different.

Lychos had inherited an interest in politics from his father, however, and he continued intensely, “What I don’t understand is why the Spartans have kings at all―much less two!”

“That’s because they are so pious,” Chambias answered, echoing his father, chief priest of Apollo. “The Spartan kings are descendent from Herakles, after all, and to cast them out would be an insult to the Gods.”

“But how can you have two men in command of an army? That would be like having two captains on a ship!” In addition to being the chief polemarch of Corinth, Lychos’ father owned a trading empire that depended on a fleet of over a hundred ships. Lychos had sailed with his father often enough to understand command at sea. “What if the two kings disagree?” Lychos asked rhetorically, adding: “My father says the present Spartan kings hate each other. Demaratus is very jealous of Cleomenes, who he thinks is vain and takes too much credit for everything.”

“Which one was which?” Chambias asked. “They all looked the same to me.” Chambias was thinking of the ranks of Spartan soldiers, all wearing red chitons under their bronze armor and red cloaks. Even the shields were identical, all bearing the lambda of Lacedaemon—except for those of the officers, who had individual shields and whose crests, rather than black, were white or striped.

“The two kings wear cross-crested helmets,” Lychos explained. “Crests that go from ear to ear. They rode ahead of the Guard. Cleomenes was on the right.”

“On the white stallion?” Chambias could picture him now.

“Yes, exactly.”

Chambias nodded thoughtfully. As the sons of aristocrats, they were both cavalrymen and connoisseurs of horseflesh. There was no denying that the Spartan kings had been exceptionally well mounted: something that surprised Chambias, who had always thought of the Spartans as infantrymen.

Lychos continued showing off his knowledge. “Cleomenes was on the flashier horse, but Demaratus won in the four-horse at the last Pythian Games, driving himself. My father predicts he will win again at Olympia.”

“They weren’t at all as I expected them to be,” Chambias admitted, looking over at Lychos uncertainly. Lychos was a fair youth with even features over a lithe body, toned to perfection in the gymnasium. Chambias was plumper, poorer, and not so sure of himself. Chambias had only had one love affair, with a senior priest, and it had been rather short and vaguely humiliating. Lychos, in contrast, had attracted a very rich, witty Athenian, the kind of lover who drew attention and could be politically useful in the future. Chambias felt a touch of jealousy. Lychos had everything: he was the heir to one of the greatest fortunes in a rich city, he was attractive, he was healthy and bright, and his father adored him. Chambias had spent most of his life trying to keep up with Lychos and always coming up short.

“What do you mean?” Lychos asked.

Chambias shrugged uncomfortably. He didn’t like Spartans. He didn’t like men who were so disciplined and unimaginative, men who did everything in groups, men who were arrogant and sure of themselves. But until the day before yesterday, he had never actually seen one. “Well, you know, they’re supposed to be taciturn and dour, but they were laughing and singing even as they marched. And today they flooded the bathhouses just like everyone else. They don’t even―”

Chambias did not get a chance to finish his thought. Without warning his horse leaped sideways, reared up, and then spun around on its haunches, dumping Chambias on the ground. The youth landed on his knee with an audible crack and blinding pain shot upward, but he had no time for it. A massive boar with coarse black hair and gigantic tusks was charging at him with such force that the earth shook under his hooves.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Review of “Xerxes” by Ren A. Hakim

XerxesRen A. Hakim’s work Xerxes is a film script which describes Xerxes’ reign, and particularly his campaigns against the Greeks, predominantly from the Persian perspective. As far as I can tell (and I am not an expert on Persian history), the book is on the whole accurate, with many scenes and quotes taken directly from Herodotus. It certain bears no comparison – in the positive sense – with the script of “300” with its comic-book and supernatural elements.

The most remarkable aspect of the work is that Hakim effectively makes Xerxes a multi-dimensional human being. At last, Xerxes is not an abnormal monster or flat caricature of a despot. Hakim’s Xerxes is human and he is understandable. I was particularly impressed by Hakim’s ability to pull me onto Xerxes side during the Battle of Salamis. During this episode I found myself fully identifying with Xerxes rather than the Greeks.

Other aspects of Xerxes’ character were less convincing. Xerxes’ relationships with women were on the whole mishandled. On the one hand, we have an honorable man with what we are told is an undying love for the woman married to his best friend. We also see a husband, who is patient and forgiving to a selfish and insolent wife. Then more than half-way through the script we discover that he also has a large harem. While not inherently inconsistent, I found it irritating that for half the book (script) Xerxes was portrayed as a virtuous, monogamous man faithful to his wife and scrupulously respectful of his best-friend’s wife, and then suddenly he turns into an oriental despot sleeping with multiple women – and not, as we are explicitly told, because he has changed but merely because the author failed to reveal this side of him earlier in the manuscript. I personally found the relationship between Xerxes and his adored, but untouchable, Suraz trite in the early part of the novel, and his relationship with his wife implausible, mostly because his wife is a caricature, without positive attributes that would explain Xerxes’ loyalty to her. Xerxes reaction to Suraz’s daughter, later in the script, was in contrast highly believable.

Politically, I find it hard to believe that there would have been so many revolts against Persian rule (Babylon, Egypt, Ionia – all more than once), if Darius and Xerxes had been as benevolent and just as Hakim portrays them. Yet the hyperbole is justified, I think, by the fact that most accounts err in the opposite direction. Hakim is probably right that most accusations of personal atrocities and vindictiveness are fabrications of Persia’s enemies, particularly the Greeks.

Hakim is, furthermore, clearly drawing a parallel between the Persian invasion of Greece in retaliation for the sack of Sardis and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. To make this point, the Persian kings are shown to see themselves as the enlightened rulers of a just world fighting against barbaric elements that wreck murder and destruction on innocent people. The thesis is completely legitimate; no doubt the Persian kings did see themselves as the “civilizing” power of their own age, and Americans need to be aware that we are seen as an “evil empire” in much of the world today -- no matter how we see ourselves. In this respect, Hakim’s Xerxes makes a valuable contribution. I hope that Hollywood will not do too much damage to her ambitious undertaking.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer - Excerpt 3

Leonidas had been spotted. A voice called the men to attention. With remarkable unison for an ad hoc unit, the shields came to the ready. But Leonidas was now close enough to distinguish the faces under the helmets of the front rank. He halted abruptly, unable to move a step closer.

Dienekes stepped forward smartly. “Sir. May I present the three hundred volunteers of your Advance Guard, all fathers of living sons.”

“And all my friends. Is not one of my enemies willing to defend Greece?”

“On the contrary, sir. Even your brother Brotus and your nephew Pausanias volunteered, but we turned them away.”

“Just how many volunteers were there?” Leonidas looked at him suspiciously.

“1,359―not counting these men.”

“You sent 1,359 men away?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“That was not what I told you to do,” Leonidas told him in a low, ominous voice. “I told you to muster the volunteers―not to usurp my prerogative of selecting the Advance Guard.” Leonidas was beginning to get angry, and his voice carried to the front rank.

“Leo.” Alkander broke ranks to come up beside Dienekes. “It was our decision,” he said softly.

“Who do you mean by that?” Leonidas snapped back. He did not want Alkander to come north with him. The risk was too great. He wanted him here in Sparta so he could be with Gorgo, Pleistarchos and Agiatis when the news came that he was dead. He wanted Alkander to be the father Agiatis would need when she was old enough to marry. More: he was counting on Alkander standing by Gorgo and Pleistarchos in the years to come when Pleistarchos would be a boy king with too few friends and too many enemies. And even after he was a man, Pleistarchos would need the advice of the utterly loyal and profoundly trustworthy Alkander.

“The men in the front rank,” Alkander answered.

Leonidas glanced at them again. The others were still standing at attention, eyes fixed straight ahead. They were each in their way the best Sparta had to offer―even battered Prokles.

Alkander continued. “We chased Brotus away with insults and mocked Pausanias. A couple hundred others left with them to protest our rudeness. Then we put our case to the remaining men. We said they would all have the chance to show their courage soon enough. After all, the main body of troops―three thousand strong―is due to march out at the end of the Karneia; that’s only ten days away. We pointed out that this Advance Guard was in effect your personal guard, and that it was only right that the men closest to you be allowed to serve in it.”

“Why?” Leonidas asked. “Do you think I want to drag all of you down to Hades with me?”

“No. But nor will we let you face your death alone.”

“I’ll hardly be alone among three hundred Spartiates―not to mention the perioikoi and allies!” His distress made his deep voice rough; to the rankers at the back, who could not catch his words, it sounded like the growl of an angry lion.

Alkander did not answer directly; he just shook his head. “You may have made the decision to die on your own, but you have no right to tell us we cannot be beside you when it happens.”

“Damn it! I am your king! I’ll choose my own damn bodyguard!” Leonidas growled more loudly still.

“For the better part of your life you have been one of us―and proud of it,” Alkander countered calmly. He had foreseen this reaction and was prepared with his arguments. “As Brotus has never forgotten or forgiven, you are king because we made you king. No matter how much of Herakles’ blood runs in your veins, or how important it is to you that your son becomes the next Agiad king, you are still one of us. We turned away men who wanted to serve their king―in order to retain those who wanted to serve you. We will go with you, Leonidas, and die with you if need be, not as your subjects―but as your peers.”

It took a moment for Leonidas to get sufficient control of his emotions to be sure he could speak. Then he nodded, took a deep breath, and managed to say: “You are right. The best part of my life I was no more and no less than a Spartan Peer.”