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BLOOD OF THE SPARTAN - THE DARK FLOWER

Under a Spartan Sky - Book One


Copyright 2017 Robert Challis

Published by Robert Challis at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition Licence Notes

An original novel by rgchallis@gmail.com under the pseudonym Robert Gregory, this e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people except under the terms set out by the publisher. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



CONTENTS

Historical Note

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven


HISTORICAL NOTE - MARRIAGE IN ANCIENT SPARTA

"In their marriages, the matron of honour cuts the hair of the bride close and dresses her in man's clothes, leaving her on a mattress in a dark room. Later the bridegroom arrives in his everyday clothes, sober and composed. Entering secretly into the room where the bride lies, he unties her skirt and takes her. After staying some time together, he returns discreetly to sleep as usual with the other young men. And so he continued this way, spending his days and nights with them, visiting his bride unobserved. She also used her wit to find opportunities for them to meet secretly. In this way it was not until they had children that they ever saw each other’s face by daylight.

An old man with a young wife might recommend some virtuous young man, for her to have a child by him, inheriting the good qualities of the father, and be a son to himself. On the other hand, an honest man who had love for a married woman might beg her company of her husband, so he could raise worthy and well connected children for himself.

Children were not so much the property of their parents as of the whole state, produced by the best men that could be found."

From Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus the Spartan


CHAPTER ONE

There were ominous thunder clouds over the rugged mountain peaks to the west of Sparta. The afternoon sun was still shining over the parade ground but the atmosphere was oppressive, unusually warm and humid.

It was late spring in the year before the seventy-eighth Olympiad. Fifteen years earlier, a Spartan army and a Spartan King perished in a heroic defence of the pass of Thermopylae against the might of the Persian Empire.

For the large class of twenty year old men, the Persian wars were recent history. However, the years since the start of their communal military life when they had entered the Agoge at the age of seven had been a time of peace in Sparta. Their trainer was Nikanor, five years older than his charges. He wore a plain tunic and a crimson cloak. He was bearded with shoulder length hair. In contrast, the young men wore a single garment, an uncoloured cloak currently folded and tied around their waists, covering to mid way down their thighs. Above their waists they were uncovered, and their hair was cut close. While wearing on their bodies no armour for this training exercise, they all carried heavy shields from the common store and each held a spear, its length more than twice a man’s height.

The parade ground was to the west of Sparta, just outside the populated area. The ground was gently sloping although there had been some levelling and paving over much of it, and on the side furthest away from Sparta there was a natural rise that served as an informal area for spectators.

There, a group of girls almost of an age with the youths was lounging around casually. They had also been involved in organised activities of their own, running races on the parade ground. As soon as the males had arrived they had vacated it, and their tutor, a girl of around Nikanor’s age, had allowed them to rest on the mound where they could observe the activities of the young men. Elsewhere in Greece it was common for girls as young as thirteen to be married to older men. Typically marriage took place much later in Sparta and none of the eighteen and nineteen year old girls in this group were married.

As well as a trainer for this group of males on the parade ground, Nikanor was also the assigned mentor of Amiantos, one of the young men in his class. This had been Nikanor’s role since Amiantos as a ten year old was already an oversized and heavily built youth. Now Amiantos was half a head taller than Nikanor with large, powerful legs and the massive upper body of a wrestler and javelin thrower, regarded as a serious contender in both events for the upcoming Olympics.

Nikanor had organised the young men into two perfectly straight lines, one behind the other, crossing the width of the parade ground and facing towards the mound. Nikanor had placed Amiantos in the crucial position on the far right of the front line. Directly behind him at the end of the second line, Nikanor had placed Amiantos’ bitter personal rival, the athlete Leandros.

The two young men were very different in physical appearance. While both were tall, Leandros was the taller, a perfectly proportioned body, lean and muscled. His long legs, balanced by a finely chiselled upper body, made him the best runner in Sparta with all round skills in the other disciplines such as spear throwing and boxing. The perfection of his body was matched by the appearance of refined nobility of his face and profile. He was widely praised in Sparta by the older men and by the girls for his physical beauty. In contrast, while it would not be correct to describe Amiantos as ugly, his features were consistent with his overall physique, much broader and squarer.

Drawn up in two lines facing the mound, the young men could take in their audience without even moving their heads. Amiantos was focussed on Kalliope. In the past Nikanor had talked to him about her and the alignment of family and political interests. In their organised and segregated life Amiantos had never even spoken to her, but he was excited at the possibility that one day she might be his wife. She was a little below average height, with a slim athletic figure and an animated and attractive face. Her naturally olive skin was darkened by frequent exposure to the sun from the active outdoor lifestyle of Spartan girls, but amongst her contemporaries she was the only girl with blonde hair, in fact more a reddy golden colour than blonde. It was a colouring rare in Sparta, considered godlike and made striking by her unusually bright grey eyes. However what set her apart most of all, even at a distance, was her vivacious and energetic personality. Almost every time Amiantos saw her, she was at the centre of a cluster of girls.

As with the young men, the girls’ clothing was suited to physical activity and to the warm conditions, but with concessions to individual preferences. Their colourful tunics were pinned at the shoulder with a favourite brooch and covered the upper half of the body from their shoulders to half way down their thighs. The rest of Greece regarded the dress of Spartans girls as scandalously revealing.

Two boys had been commandeered from a younger year level to play the music, a simple rhythmic tune on flutes. The young men awaited their first order, their shields supported on their left forearms and their spears held vertically. Amiantos watched as Kalliope jumped to her feet, responding to the flutes on the parade ground. She began leaping to the music, on every second beat kicking up both her feet behind her to strike her own buttocks with her heels. Shortly after this two other girls followed her lead and then two more.

"Ready," Nikanor called out, aware of the distraction. "On the beat, right turn."

In a single graceful movement, almost as much like a dance step as a military move, every young soldier turned to the right and on a second order they began to march around the perimeter of the parade ground in two lines. It was a very well rehearsed routine and it required few orders and signals from Nikanor. As they marched near the girls on the mound, Amiantos made the slightest movement of his head towards them. By this time all the girls were on their feet and had joined in the leaping, turning it into a competition to see whose stamina was greatest and at the same time attempting to impress the boys.

Leandros, marching next to Amiantos at the front of the second line, caught the movement of Amiantos’ head. Barely opening his mouth, Leandros muttered, "Waste of time lover boy. She’s not interested."

"What would you know?" Amiantos whispered back.

With the girls adjacent to them, Leandros raised his voice a fraction. "Watch that crippled ankle boy, you’ll make us all look stupid."

Amiantos hissed his annoyance. Leandros’ reference was to a twist and weakness in his right ankle from birth, a sensitive subject for Amiantos. For the first two years of his life it had been tightly bound to correct its position. It still gave him trouble after intense exercise but he had learned how to control his movements so that the weakness was barely perceptible to a casual observer. Amiantos knew that Leandros was trying to humiliate him in front of Kalliope.

In the next part of the routine the column returned to their starting point in middle of the parade ground and turned again towards the mound. On a signal from Nikanor, the right half of the line took two steps forward and the left half of the line ran into positions behind the first two lines. The four ranks split into halves again and the left half rapidly formed up behind the front ranks forming a phalanx, eight ranks deep.

There was the sound of distant thunder over the mountains. In the humid conditions the sweat poured freely down the bare chest and backs of the youths.

As the girls continued their own strenuous contest, the young men completed several other well rehearsed movements. The lines suddenly reversed themselves so the rear rank became the front. Then the ranks rearranged themselves to successively face in four different directions, bringing spears into play in unison. Finally, in the most complex and rehearsed manoeuvre of all, their phalanx re-formed into two ranks and marched to form a single wheel two ranks deep, a perfect circle. They turned to face outwards, with the spears held horizontally underarm. Then, in a fluid motion the youths all raised their spears vertically, about faced, and brought their spears down again with a shout so that now all the youths and their spears were facing towards the centre of the wheel. It might well be imagined that there were enemies inside the circle trapped by this impenetrable wall of spears, awaiting slaughter.

The music ended with the completion of this move and Nikanor led the boys in a loud cheer. The girls had already exhausted themselves from their leaping competition, Kalliope the victor. Now sitting or lying exhausted on the ground, they were still able to raise a cheer acknowledging the skill they had witnessed on the parade ground.

A moment later there was a flash of lightning and a deafening peal of thunder from the nearby mountains. All eyes, male and female, turned in the direction of the sound. The girls immediately rose to their feet and with scattered rain drops starting to fall, began making their way hurriedly back towards Sparta away from the threatening storm.

Nikanor however called in all the young warriors and required them to sit on the ground while he delivering at length his analysis of their performance, ignoring the rain and the risk of lightning strike. As they listened to Nikanor, the youths huddled their bodies close together in a solid mass using their upper bodies to prevent the rain from reaching their cloaks. Oil in the fabric of their cloaks gave them some level of water resistance, but even so, a thorough soaking would mean that as it was late in the afternoon there would not be enough time for their cloaks to dry before taking their evening meal.

Fortunately the rain storm was brief and after Nikanor had dismissed them, the young men rearranged their cloaks as shoulder to knee tunics and walked or ran back through Sparta according to inclination, returning their spears and shields to the common store before proceeding to their mess hall.

Amiantos and his friend Orestes lagged behind the rest. They had to walk across the full width of the city as their mess hall stood near the banks of the Eurotas river on the Eastern fringe of Sparta. The city was laid out in a haphazard way resulting from the fact that it had begun as a group of villages that had spread and melded together into one. The old village names still persisted. Small wooden residences were intermingled with more substantial, columned temples, small squares, fountains and statues, and the roads joined each other at random angles. Most of the buildings were small and ancient. The closest to monumental architecture was the Temple of the Bronze Athena that Amiantos and Orestes occasionally caught sight of to their left at the foot of the modest acropolis. Apart from the temples, the only other impressive structures of Sparta were the gymnasiums and military buildings. The mountain ranges to the east or west were visible from all parts of the city, a natural fortress for the Lakonian plain.

At this time of day most of the Spartan citizens were indoors at their afternoon meal and most of the people they encountered were slaves on different tasks and errands. However as they reached their mess hall, a large, low, stone building, and turned along one of its sides they found that Leandros and three others had chosen this as a place to stand in wait for them. These were Leandros’ habitual companions, twins Kastor and Lakis, and another well built youth, Antenor.

"Amiantos we should talk. You were impolite to me on the parade ground," Leandros said loudly as they drew near.

Orestes glanced sharply at Amiantos.

Leandros looked at Orestes. "Hey, this isn’t your problem."

Although of all of them Orestes was the smallest, he was lean and wiry, not known for backing down. He met Leandros’ eyes. "There’s no problem. We’re hungry. He doesn’t want to talk." He glanced to his friend. "Come on Amiantos."

"No room this way. You’d better go back," Leandros said coolly.

"I don’t think so," Orestes replied at once.

"Four against two. Think again."

"I can take the twins, Amiantos can take you and Antenor. I think it’s a fair fight."

Leandros laughed. "If you want to join, it’s up to you."

Amiantos took hold of Orestes’ arm and started to turn round. "There’s nothing to join. Come on Orestes, we can go the other way."

"Orestes, I always knew your lover was a coward," Leandros said casually.

Amiantos turned back and glared at Leandros.

Leandros grinned in response. "Did I touch a nerve? Maybe I’ll tell Kalliope."

"If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep away from her."

"Oh will I? I think I might get very close to her."

Leandros lowered his hands and held them apart in front of him as if holding Kalliope by the buttocks. He made thrusting motions with his hips, pulling the imaginary Kalliope towards him as if taking her in the sexual act. His companions laughed.

Amiantos and Orestes exchanged a glance and instantly both rushed into the attack. Amiantos went straight for the tallest and strongest, Leandros, Orestes for Kastor. In a moment, the twins had Orestes on the ground, but Orestes managed to drag Kastor down on top of him and wrap up his arms and legs with his own. Maintaining a firm hold on Kastor, and by constantly working him around, he made it hard for Lakis to land any serious punches. Amiantos completely ignored Antenor and had Leandros by both arms forced up against the wall. Leandros was not as strong as Amiantos, but with the wall behind him he was still able to keep a grip on Amiantos and effectively keep him at bay, particularly with Antenor throwing punches into Amiantos’ lower back. While straining against Amiantos, Leandros did his best to grin insolently, but in a moment Amiantos saw his expression change. Turning his head a fraction, Amiantos saw the reason. It was the sudden appearance of Hippomachus, the supervisor of the Agoge. He struck at Antenor’s back with the long cane he always carried. He immediately turned to Lakis and struck him viciously across the arm. At once, all the young men stopped fighting and arranged themselves into a line facing Hippomachus, their eyes down.

Hippomachus was a man of about fifty, bearded. He was lean, straight, a little shorter than Orestes. The other young men were considerably taller, Leandros by more than a head. Amiantos was far broader, about twice his weight. Hippomachus walked up and down striking each of them in turn on the upper arm with his cane as he walked past.

"This kind of behaviour is disgraceful. You’re all on the verge of manhood. In a short while you’ll be graduating from the Agoge. Have you learnt nothing? Soon you’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder in battle. You’ll need each other. I will not tolerate this."

One by one the young men were required to stand with their back to him. He struck each of them once with the cane with all his strength across the shoulders.

"Now you’ll make up."

The youths were required to hug, one to one, arms around each other, foreheads touching. It was only after this ceremony had been completed for every combination that they were allowed to go, and under his gaze they walked, heads down submissively, around the building to the entrance and into the mess hall.

* * * *

The young Spartans took their meals at long, permanent wooden tables.. They were in noisy high spirits in anticipation of their departure for the coming war games, the most important in their long years in the Agoge.

The tall straight figured Helot Elias, a man of around forty, served his master Amiantos and Amiantos' friends at his table. As he poured their wine, he spoke quietly to Amiantos.

Are you well, young master?"

Not realising he was giving anything away, Amiantos looked up at Elias in surprise.

"I’m fine."

"A case of nerves before your games," Elias replied loudly. "You Spartans take yourselves so seriously.

" Amiantos glanced again into Elias' placid face. How was it, he wondered, that Elias could always tell when he was lying.

Leandros was at the neighbouring table and decided to continue his attack on Amiantos through his servant. "Do you have any daughters in the villages for us? I'll bet you a jug of wine they'll be taking us seriously."

Elias turned towards Leandros. "There'll be a price to pay if I hear any of you school boys have got up to dirty work with our Messenian girls."

His response provoked laughter, but it won the attention of all the young Spartans.

Leandros continued his attack. "You’re not Messenians. You were conquered. You’re Helots. You’re our slaves and we can do what we want."

"We're not as docile as you think," Elias replied calmly. "We Messenians are natives of the soil. You are temporary intruders."

There was more laughter. It always surprised Amiantos to see how much Elias could get away with.

"We’ve been here for twenty generations," someone else shouted. "Is that temporary?"

"And maybe you’ll be here twenty more," Elias lectured, "but in the end we'll send you packing. It's the law of history, the law of nature. There will be a reckoning, a counting up of scores. For every injury to my people there will be twenty returned to you and your descendants."

"Please stop, I’ll wet myself." This came from further away, and provoked more laughter.

Elias moved towards the side of the mess hall, where speakers usually stood when they needed the floor. The laughter died down in expectation.

"Let me educate you young men. We Messenians have a legend, a salutary story that we tell our children. It's forbidden for Spartans to hear it."

A hush came over the room.

Amiantos commented drily, "If it's forbidden for Spartans to hear, how can you tell us?"

Elias glanced briefly at Amiantos. "Only the ending is forbidden," he replied, as if stating the obvious. Then he addressed the whole room again. "But when you've heard it, maybe you'll learn some respect for Messenian maidens and know to leave them alone. Remember, all debts will be repaid. I might be saving your children from a cruel death."

This provoked more laughter but others were calling for a hush, the young soldiers eager for the story the eloquent Helot was promising to tell.

Elias began quietly. This itself drew in his audience. They had to strain somewhat to hear his words. But as the story developed his voice became more and more intense.

"It was like this. For two generations Messenians had rankled under the yoke of the Spartan conquest. Remember this when you march through our territory today. We, not you, are the natives of the soil. You are the outsiders.

Well, from the proudest and most ancient of Messenian families came Aristomenes. None felt the Spartan slavery more deeply than he, since the traditions of his family were so free and noble. Therefore Aristomenes raised rebellion over the Messenian plain, even marching his army into Lakonia, capturing Amyklae, less than half a days’ march from Sparta itself.

In Amyklae there was a beautiful young maiden named Sofia. Her parents had died when she was very young. She was descended from the Messenians of the Lakonian plain, amongst the first to be conquered and enslaved by Sparta. Not only was she beautiful beyond description, she was pure and virtuous in every act and thought. By comparison Spartan women today are whores."

Elias paused for the angry protests to die down, Amiantos noticing the slightest trace of a smile on his otherwise impassive face. Despite their protests, the young Spartan soldiers were hanging on his every word.

"Now this Sofia gained her freedom when Aristomenes captured Amyklae. At once, even though her origins were the most humble imaginable, Aristomenes saw the fire and courage in her heart and the two became lovers.

Now that the fire of rebellion had been lit, Aristomenes won victory after victory over Sparta. But sadly, in the end, you prevailed over us, such are the fortunes of war. The Messenians at length held only the stronghold of Eira, but still for years they held out, and the best efforts of the Spartans were fruitless.

Such was the indomitable spirit of Aristomenes and others like him that they could not bear to be contained in one fortress while watching Spartans laying waste their native soil. He led sorties against the besieging Spartans and inflicted heavy casualties in heroic feats. In the end the full force of the Spartan army was brought into play and Aristomenes and fifty of his brave companions were taken captive. The Spartans took them to the mountains and threw them down into a deep cavern to die from the fall or from the slow and agonising death of hunger.

Aristomenes’ ankle was badly broken but he and a few others survived the fall. Day by day, like trees to the woodsman's axe they fell, each with his dying breath vowing eternal allegiance to the soil of Messenia and a curse on the invaders."

Elias paused for a few moments and then continued in a very quiet voice. "When you march tomorrow in some woods or by the river in the evening, you may hear the shades of these warriors borne in the wind, rustling the leaves."

For a moment all was silent. Even though he talked of their enemy, Spartan youths were raised on stories of sacrifice and heroic death.

At length Elias began again.

"Now when Sofia heard of the capture of Aristomenes she was overcome with grief. As if knowing his sufferings, she ceased to eat, and all around her feared for her life. At last she was induced to visit Hera's Temple in Eira where the Goddess spoke to her in a vision and ordered her to preserve her own life and to cross into enemy territory to find news of her beloved. The Goddess told her that she should stop at nothing in her quest, even prostitution, and gave her a veil of forgetfulness to wipe out the memory of any sins she might commit, and so preserve her virtue.

Sofia left Eira and walked into Spartan territory. She allowed herself to be taken captive, and such was her beauty that she was delivered to the famous Spartan leader and poet, Tyrtaeus."

A few of his audience cheered at the mention of his name, but it soon settled as Elias resumed.

"Of course Tyrtaeus is something of a hero to you Spartans, but to us Messenians he is less fondly remembered. In short, he was a brute who misused Sofia in every possible way, but such was the purity of her soul that in a real sense she withstood him and maintained her virtue despite every act of degradation.

Enduring all this, Sofia was soon able to discover the whereabouts of Aristomenes. In the small hours of each morning she would sneak out and trek to the mountains. She threw food down into the cavern to keep him alive, although by then he was the only survivor.

One night on her way back to Tyrtaeus' house, she came across a wolf snared by the foot and howling pitifully. She tended the injury and freed the animal. From then on, each night she also brought food for the wolf, and as it grew tame an idea grew in her head.

In brief, Spartans, she trained it, and when she was ready she sent it down into the pit, throwing food in front of it to lure it on. When Aristomenes saw the wolf he dragged himself after it. By following its footprints he eventually found the way out and was reunited with Sofia.

On Aristomenes’ instruction, Sofia continued to live with Tyrtaeus. She visited Aristomenes secretly until his broken ankle had fully healed, and one night she conceived to him. Aristomenes told her to return again to the Spartan as if his willing wife so that he would believe the child she carried was his.

So Sofia returned to the Spartan and made love with him that very night, to all appearances his dutiful wife.

Ten cycles of the moon later she bore a son. The Spartan spirited him away and had him brought up in secret as a Spartan, concealing the mother’s Messenian blood and unaware the father was also Messenian.

Shortly after this Sofia left Tyrtaeus and returned to Aristomenes in Eira, the Messenian mountain stronghold.

The rest of the story you Spartans know. Eira finally fell. Aristomenes and Sofia fled to Rhodes where they lived out the rest of their lives.

Now as for the child of Aristomenes that Tyrtaeus thought was his own, I will tell you no more. That’s the part forbidden to you Spartans. At the moment of his birth Sofia whispered a spell into his ear, that the baby and all its ancestors would be a curse on Sparta, to arise in moments of Sparta's peril, for Sparta's destruction. The secret descendants of Aristomenes in Sparta are many, perhaps even amongst you here."

Elias paused and there were some murmurs of dissent from his listeners.

"You don’t believe me? I can prove it," Elias went on. "A rumour arose of Tyrtaeus' secret child that was not really his, and of the spell whispered in its ear. In response Sparta organised itself into a great military camp in readiness for an uprising of Messenians inspired by an enemy within. Each year five Ephors were appointed, men with the task of seeking out the Spartans who are descended from Aristomenes. But to this very day they have failed."

Elias paused for a few moments for the implications to sink in.

"There are two secrets in this story that no Messenian will ever reveal to any Spartan, even under extreme torture. The first is the name of Aristomenes' son - a very famous name in Sparta, I assure you. The second secret is the way to recognise the descendants of Sofia and Aristomenes. Both of these secrets are known to me, but I will not reveal them to you, now or ever."

At this a few of the youths began calling out scornfully.

Leandros jumped to his feet with a pretence of anger. "You'll be forced to tell us even at the cost of your own life. We'll deliver you to the Ephors."

This was followed by a sudden hush. Elias looked straight at Leandros for a long moment before suddenly bursting into loud insulting laughter. "Kill me by all means. I have long since ceased to live for anything but to see you Spartans suffer for what you have done to my people. Kill me, but I will tell you nothing."

Amiantos stood up, more to answer Leandros than defend Elias. "You won’t kill him. He’s my servant." Amiantos looked directly at Leandros. "He’s playing games with you. The story is just a fiction to frighten gullible Spartan children. There was no Sofia and there are no Spartan heirs of Aristomenes. You all know why we Spartans became a military state and why the Ephors were created. It was to preserve our way of life, and keep Helots like Elias under control. That’s enough Elias, leave us, and let us eat in peace."

With great dignity, Elias began to leave, but at the door he turned and said calmly, "Believe me or not, I don't care. But leave our Messenian girls alone or I shall hear about it, rest assured."

Again his words had impact - for a few moments. As if without his presence the spell had been broken, the young Spartans began to laugh again and boast of what they would do over the coming days.

Amiantos however was troubled. As a family servant, Elias had all but raised him at home when he was a child and had been with him since Amiantos joined the Agoge at the age of seven as his personal servant. Amiantos had long since ceased to believe anything that Elias told him. Amiantos had heard Elias' story before, as a small credulous child. But the thing that worried him was the ending of the story. Amiantos knew it, and Elias had never told him it was secret. All the same, Amiantos was grateful that Elias had not related the rest of it.

* * * *

Amiantos was last out of the mess as Elias had indicated that he had a message to give him.

"Your mother has asked me to instruct you to do your duty and to do nothing to disgrace your family name," Elias said in his pedantic and old fashioned way of talking as they walked together.

"That was all?"

"Isn't that enough?"

Amiantos was disappointed.

"Oh now you mention it," Elias went on, "I believe she said something about making sure you return carrying your shield or being carried on it, some silly business like that."

Amiantos directed a sharp look at his servant, knowing that Elias was ridiculing him with this well known adage from a Spartan mother to her son marching off to war.

Elias looked at Amiantos as if surprised by his reaction. "And come to think of it, she also said that you should behave correctly to any Messenian girls that cross your path. She was very insistent on this."

Realising he was going to get no sense from his Helot, Amiantos changed the subject. "Why did you tell that ridiculous story over dinner?"

Again Elias feigned surprise. "Ridiculous? You didn't tell me you thought it was ridiculous when I told it to you before."

"I was six or seven years old," said Amiantos with some heat.

"So you do remember."

"Of course, and I remember how it finished."

"Oh? tell me then?"

"You told me that the descendants of Aristomenes and Sofia can all be recognised by a weakness in the ankle, inherited from Aristomenes’ injury when he was thrown into the cavern."

"Well done boy."

"Don't call me boy."

Elias looked at Amiantos, pretending to be offended.

"I know that you were telling the story because of my ankle," Amiantos said. "I may not have known it as a child but I’m not fooled now."

"That's true young Amiantos. You’re much smarter than a real Spartan."

"There you go again," said Amiantos angrily. "Your story means nothing."

Elias looked at Amiantos as if contemplating something. "You're right of course. I admit I invented the part of the story about recognising the descendants of Aristomenes by their ankles. At the time I told you that, you were about to enter the Agoge. It was my way of warning you to be strong. If you gave them a chance, the other boys would have torn you apart. You needed to know to be aware of your weakness, to conceal it, build strength in your leg so it no longer mattered."

"So was any of your story true?"

"Who’s to say? I suppose it has truth for the person telling it and a different truth for those listening. On the plain of Messenia, they tell the story quite differently. There’s no Sofia at all. Aristomenes simply follows a wolf out of the cavern to safety. Over there they also have their own legend of the heirs of Aristomenes. They say that before going into exile in Rhodes, Aristomenes hid his ring somewhere on Mount Ithome over the village of Messene. Their story is that he passed the secret of its location on to his heir, and his heir on to the next and on and on until now. They like to believe that one day a secret heir of Aristomenes will emerge with the ring to lead them to freedom. I quite like their version because it provides the Messenians with hope, but I really prefer the version we tell here on the Lakonian plain where a local Messenian girl from Amyklae plays such an important part."

"So it’s all meaningless. You just add details to the story as you feel like it."

"Now that’s where you’re wrong Amiantos. Posterity remembers the people whose stories survive. So every place has their own little variation in the hope that in the end their truth will prevail. There are also many lessons to be taken from these stories whether they’re true or not."


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