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Works and Days

Liberal Indulgences

October 28th, 2011 - 10:02 pm

The End of Sparta

Lichas the Spartan surprises the Thebans at the mountain hut of Gorgos-Kuniskos, and intends to settles things at last with the hated liberators:

“Old Chôlopous. So we meet again, the half- dead Mêlon, son of the long-dead Malgis. You are the father of the dead boy at Leuktra? All has turned out as promised. Or do you remember me? We first met on your farm when you had your first set of teeth, when you ran under your arbors before I could cut off your tiny head— and at Koroneia, and yet once more at the fight at the Nemea. On that night at Leuktra, and then on your recent visit to burn my farm at Sparta. My, my, my friend, how we’ve
grown old together.”

This tall but stooped Spartan stepped even farther forward near Kuniskos while the others stayed put by the doors. Lichas was ageless like his Kuniskos, and likewise he felt no burdens of age or time. In similar fashion, Lichas felt freed by his long years and the end of Messenia and the idea he could do at last what ever he wished— which for Lichas always meant to kill without penalty whoever he wanted. Lichas continued. “I speak for a bit before you bleed. I wanted Pelopidas and Epaminondas to visit our hut and maybe Alkidamas as well, so with a clean cut today we could finish this Messenian mess once and for all and get our boys back
down over there where they belong. Only the hungriest rats scampered up here, I see. Even the best trapper must put up with the rodents who clutter his nets. I brought today my son Antikrates, who killed so many of yours at Leuktra. More of our friends are here as well. You say you will take our helot back down the mountain? Oh no, no. Not this time, Master Mêlon. You will go down no mountain— not even a hill, not even dead. Where is your proud Epaminondas or Pelopidas— or even one of those brutes from the islands here to rescue you? We had soup here for both. Your islander, we hear, has gone feral. He flees the blood guilt on
your Helikon. If he comes up here— and he won’t because he’s dead— by now he would have met our man- bear who bites the throat of all lone wanderers on Taygetos.”

Then his wife Elektra stepped to his side, proud with her long hair, some tresses braided and some dangling out the sides of her helmet. She boasted, “Too much talk, my Lichas. Kill them before that branded helot over there puts a chant or spell on us. Let me cut her tongue out before this Nêto bewitches us all. Or let my boy Thibrachos have a taste of her first.”

The Spartan had drawn his sword, a shiny xiphos with both edges gleaming in the candlelight. Elektra had a black pelekus, a battle- ax given to her by the king himself, and she swung if far better than did her son Thibrachos. The outnumbered band crouched and made ready for the rush, Mêlon and Ainias still covering the flanks, Nikôn and Melissos between
them three steps back with drawn long knives— and Nêto in reserve with an oak staff . She put both hands on the shaft and looked for an opening. The five had backed flush against the wall, as the Spartans by the two doors covered the escapes. They could at least take down Gorgos, and maybe even Elektra before their deaths. These were armored men, Sparta’s best; and Mêlon’s side was without bronze— and with boy and a lame woman.

“Come over here, Mêlon. I want you to join your father and son, so you can all boast in Hades that Lichas sent you there.”

Lichas talked more than a Spartan should, talked more than he ever had, as he shifted his weight from foot to foot to find the right moment to stab. “If you throw down your weapons, I promise a good enough burial. Antikrates over there, my best son, took out that fool of yours who built walls. What was his name, boy? Yes, yes, the soft Plataian rich man Proxenos? The grand
thinker whose belly you cut open when that mob of northerners stormed our tower.”

There was no to be parley with Lichas. He meant to cut them all down and wanted them to know it before they fell. No quarter. Elektra started her ululation. Still Mêlon called out, “If you have an ax, swing, Spartan woman, don’t talk.”

Lichas had a final word. “You have it wrong, all of you. God has made every man a slave. Only a man, if he’s worth anything, makes himself free.” Lichas wanted to get closer, to cut with the sword and taste the blood fly in the air as it dotted his face. Kuniskos pulled from the rafters a cleaver and backed aside to let his friend charge through. The blade had been hidden above the table right near his head. He had taken the idea of hiding it from the dead Erinna. He had hoped to place it at the throat of Nêto and drag her outside for some final sport—or to strangle her slowly and give her his death whisper.

At the back of the cottage, facing his father on the far side, Antikrates pointed his spear with the underhand grip. He and his two henchmen had been hiding in the cave when Mêlon arrived and had quietly sneaked out to block the rear door once the visitors were inside. Lichas, Elektra, and his retainer had come around through the forest path to plug the main entrance.

“That damn Scorpas and his phantom goat- man—and without a helot patrol to be found,” Nikôn cried. “We are surrounded, with no where to go.”

Then Melissos pointed toward Lichas. “Spartans fight in the sun. Let us out. Duel in the open air. Kill or die face- to- face like men should.” Melissos could have run, having no part in war against the tall Spartans. But no words of retreat or surrender came out. Instead, he decided to stand his ground, blade in hand, here with Mêlon, Ainias, Nêto, and Nikôn — and for something more than the love of gore or a Spartan scalp.

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