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Cadet: Olympian Book 2

 

Lee Ness

 

Lee Ness writes both fiction and non-fiction books plus non-fiction articles. He balances writing with being Chairman and Head Coach of an City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club and his family.

Lee’s articles appear in Athletics Weekly, on speedendurance.com and on stack.com. Lee was Wiltshire Sport Coach of the Year 2014 and Wiltshire Athletics Coach of the Year 2015.

Other books by this Author

FICTION

HOPLITE: OLYMPIAN BOOK 1

D.E.M. – DEUS EX MACHINA

D.E.M. – QUID PRO QUO

NON FICTION

THE SPORTS MOTIVATION MASTER PLAN

GROWTH: USING THE MINDSET MODEL FOR SPORTING SUCCESS

Copyright ©2016 by Lee Ness

 

Published by Lee Ness

 

Lee Ness asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

 

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior permission in writing of the author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

This novel is a work of fiction. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Author’s Website

leeness.co.uk

I would like to thank Steph Judge and Jeanette Brown for patiently reading every word of the final draft of Cadet and providing constructive feedback on the plot and characters. It’s appreciated.

 

 

 

 

Cadet – Olympian Book 2

 

by Lee Ness

 

Glossary

 

Arete!- Go!

Decardarchos – second in command of the enomotia reporting to the dimœrites.

Decasteros – the decasterœ were the first level of rank above a hoplite. Commands a stichœ.

Diaulos – This was the double-stadion race which included a turning post half way. This was around 440 yards, equivalent to today’s 400m race.

Dimœrites – the head of the enomotia in charge of up to 32 hoplites.

Doru – The doru is the long spear carried by hoplites. This was around 8 feet in length and had a spearhead on one end and a sharp spike on the other, which could be used in battle if the spearhead snapped off, but was mainly used to spike into the ground.

Enomotia – a basic combat element of the Ancient Greek army. The word enomotia means sworn. It is made up of 2-4 stichœ of 8 hoplites.

Ephodos – The phase in the phalanx that is the march toward the enemy in tight formation.Hoplite – these were citizen-soldiers of the Ancient Greek armies that made up the infantry. Hoplites provided their own armour and weaponry and were often farmers or artisans.

Hoplomachos – A weapons or training instructor.

Hoplomachoi – Plural form of Hoplomachos

Hoplon – The course of the name hoplite, the hoplon is a large oval shield, approximately 3 1/2 feet in diameter and very heavy.

Lochagos – commander of the lochos of between 100 and 500 hoplites. Reports to a syntagmatarchis.

Lochos – from 4 to a maximum of 32 enomotiæ led by a lochagos

Pessoi – a two-player military strategy game similar to chess.

Phalanx – The phalanx is a military formation of Stichœ lined behind an overlapping shield wall. The front row of the wall, as well as providing the shield defence using the hoplons on their left arm, would also fight close range with their xiphos. Behind the front row, there would be other ranks of hoplites with doru to fight over the top of the shields and protect the ranks from archer attacks.

Polemarchos – the commander in chief of the army. The polemarch was a member of the strategoi and had the casting vote on strategy.

Stadion – Ancient Greek unit of length based on the length of a typical sports stadium at the time, equivalent of around 165 to 210 yards. It was also the name given to the race of the same distance, equivalent to today’s 200m race.

Stichœ – A subsection of an enomotia made up of 8 hoplites.

Strategos – a general in the Ancient Greek army. In Athens, ten strategoi were elected annually. The ten strategoi debated and voted on strategy.

Syntagmatarchis – head of a regiment. Reports to a strategos or a taxiarchos.

Taxis – the taxis is a largest single body of hoplites of 500 to 1500 men, usually let by a strategos.

Taxiarchos – one of the ten strategoi, second in command to the polemarchos.

Xiphos – This a short stabbing sword carried by the hoplites for close combat or for use in the phalanx. The sword was around 2 feet long and was used to stab into an unprotected groin, throat or armpit between the overlapping shields of the front line of the phalanx.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

WAITING

 

“Welcome to my academy, Ampelios,” said Xenophon with a smirk.

Ampelios looked back at Alexander, who had been instructed to stay at the gate. Alexander pleaded with Ampelios with an open-mouthed expression.

Ampelios glared at Xenophon. “What are you two doing here?” he said, and gestured to Zosimos.

Xenophon snorted a laugh. “Pericles doesn’t have the power he thinks he does. He shipped us back to Athens, but Zosimos has powerful friends here. All charges were dropped in the absence of the mighty Pericles and Zosimos was given command of this academy. Of course, he needed someone he trusted to be second in command.”

“You’ve been promoted to hoplomachos?” Ampelios said, his eyes wide. “A training instructor? You?”

“Of course,” Xenophon sneered. “Who better than someone with my experience?” He gave a loud sniff and wiped his nose on his shoulder.

“I’m not leaving Alexander here. Pericles won’t have it.”

“Pericles has no power here. Not while he’s away playing with the Persians anyway. With any luck he might be killed.”

Ampelios clenched his fist and pulled back his arm.

“What’s going on here?” a whiny, high pitched voice interrupted them.

They both turned to look at Zosimos. He was wore a tunic of the brightest white to cover his oversize body and his fat legs stuck out from underneath it. They looked far too small to support his weight. He had his arms by his sides, but because of his girth, they seemed to just hang there, pushed aside by his bulbous chest. His small eyes looked past them to Alexander with a mirthless glee.

“Sir, thank you for intervening,” Xenophon said. “I was just taking custody of our new cadet, but this decadarchos,” he spoke the title with contempt and gestured to Ampelios with a flick of his head, “seems to think he can keep him for himself.”

“Ampelios.” Zosimos looked down his nose at the big soldier stood in front of him. “From head of my personal guard, to wet nurse for a Thracian bastard. I think you picked the wrong horse to hitch your wagon to. You’re dismissed.”

“I’m not leaving Alexander with you two,” Ampelios growled.

“Those were your orders, decadarchos. And I am a syntagmatarchis. Unless you address me with respect, I will have you flogged. Now, you are dismissed.” Zosimos gestured to the two guards at the gate. “Remove this wet nurse from my academy.” He turned his back to them as the guards approached.

Xenophon grinned at Alexander, still back at the gate and whose eyes were wide in horror.

One of the guards had grabbed Ampelios’ arm to lead him away, but Ampelios ripped it away and gave the guard a withering stare. He turned to Xenophon. “If any harm comes to that boy, I will come here and visit the same harm on you tenfold.”

Xenophon just laughed. “You won’t be alive long enough, Ampelios. You won’t survive the next Persian battle. I hear you’re going to the front line. Xerses will have fun with you. I hear the Immortals will be looking out for you after what you did at Plataea.”

Ampelios glared at Xenophon again then turned on his heel and marched back to Alexander. “I’ll get a message to Pericles. I’ll get you out of here.”

“Please don’t leave me,” Alexander pleaded.

Ampelios hesitated but the two guards placed a hand on his chest, careful not to grab him this time. Ampelios glared at them but took a deep breath and marched away.

Alexander stood by the gate and waited. Zosimos had disappeared and Xenophon had gone back to watch the cadets as they performed drills and wrestled in the blazing midday sun. Of course, Xenophon stood in comfort in the shade of the colonnades, and drank water served to him by slaves in comfort.

Alexander decided he needed to do something and started over toward them but as soon as he took a step, one of the guards placed a hand on his chest.

“You can’t enter the academy until the syntagmatarchis has invited you in.”

“But I’ve been sent here by Pericles. I’m supposed to be here.”

“That’s as may be, but they’re the rules. You wait here until someone comes and gets you.”

Alexander stared back at him but said nothing. He stood at the gate and waited, while he watched the cadets wrestle and drill. They’d finished up their work and took a water break. Alexander watched them and realised how thirsty he was. They had a long walk here and he was tired. Ampelios had taken the water skin back with him so Alexander had nothing but the tunic he wore. He looked up at the guards but they ignored him.

Alexander frowned. This was a ritual of some sort. Maybe it was a way for a new recruit to watch the way the academy works and gain some insight before he entered. He looked across at Xenophon who now shouted and screamed at the cadets to get back to their exercises. Maybe not. It was more likely some cruel test.

Alexander straightened himself. He wasn’t going to let them win. He stared straight ahead and thought about his father and mother. The sun was high in the sky and the heat was uncomfortable. The guards stood beneath shades to protect them. Alexander blinked sweat from his eyes. He could feel his hair stuck to his head and his tunic clung to his body. His arms and legs were slick with sweat that ran down them and dripped to the floor.

The cadets finished their exercises and left the parade ground. Alexander envied them as they moved off into the shade. The guards were relieved by two new ones, but these also ignored him. He could feel his skin start to prickle. He was used to the sun, but his skin was fairer than the full Greeks. He had his mother’s features, red hair and fair skin. She was Thracian, not Greek and his complexion and hair had been the cause of a lot of bullying over the years.

Alexander blinked his eyes and then screwed them up and rubbed his forehead with his hand. His head felt like it was splitting in two. At least he’d stopped sweating so much. He shifted from foot to foot. His legs started to feel uncomfortable. He didn’t know how long he’d stood there but he guessed it was mid afternoon now. Although the sun had passed its highest point, it still blazed down on him and the heat from the ground was now reflected back up at him. There was no breeze to cool him. He knew this was the worst part of the day. If he could get through this he would show them they couldn’t break him. He wouldn’t go to them and ask them for pity. Never!

Alexander shook his head. He struggled to focus and swayed on his feet. His head spun and he screwed up his eyes again. Finally, someone came across the parade ground to him out of the heat haze. The figure got nearer and Alexander frowned. What was his father doing here? His father was dead. Alexander tried to focus and screwed his eyes shut again and then blinked to try and get some moisture in them. When he looked back again the figure was gone.

“You need to get out of this heat, Alexander” said a voice in his ear.

“Straton?” Alexander spun to see his friend but there was no-one there.

His sharp turn unbalanced him and he fell to his knees. He tried to get to his feet again, but his legs wouldn’t work properly. He managed to stand up but couldn’t stay still. He looked around for Straton and staggered from side to side as he turned. He struggled to breathe now, his tunic strangled him and he tried to pull it off. It clung to him, damp and heavy. He tore at it but couldn’t coordinate himself and fell to the floor again, this time on his back.

Alexander rolled onto his front and pulled himself to his hands and knees. He couldn’t focus on the ground and he hung his head. His stomach heaved and he retched up some bile from the depths of it. It burned his throat and mouth as he let it dribble out. He didn’t have the energy to spit and his mouth was too dry anyway. He could go no further. He couldn’t drag himself upwards.

“Enough of this’” he heard a voice say. Was that Straton again? Where was he? Alexander lowered himself to the ground and closed his eyes. He would just sleep now.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

WELCOME

 

Alexander tried to open his eyes but couldn’t. They were caked shut so he raised a hand to rub at them. The skin of his arm resisted his movement, it felt like it had shrunk on his body and movement hurt his arm and shoulder. He managed to rub his eyes clear and looked around. He was in a dark room, laid on a stone bench. His head throbbed and his mouth was dry.

He looked around and saw an urn of water and a cup on the floor next to the bench. He poured himself a cup and drank greedily, then poured himself another and did the same. He was about to gulp down his third when he heard a voice.

“Hey, not so fast. You’ll be sick again. Sip it.”

Alexander looked at the guard from the gate.

“Where am I?”

“You’re at the academy, in one of the wash rooms. You passed out in the heat so I brought you in here to cool down.”

“How long have I been in here?”

“A while. It’s night now.”

Alexander rubbed his head with his hands. It pounded and felt like he’d been hit with something.

“That’ll be the thirst,” said the guard. “You need to get some water inside you, but not too quickly or you’ll spew it back out. I’ll give you as long as I can in here but at some point I’m going to have to report to Xenophon that you aren’t stood outside anymore.”

“Will you get in trouble?”

“No. Because I’m not going to tell him I did anything. This one’s on you. You wandered off on your own. It’ll be bad for you, but better than being dead. If you mention my involvement, you’ll regret it.”

“I won’t.”

“See that you don’t. If he asks about the water, tell him you stole it.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Don’t thank me. I couldn’t let you die out there, it isn’t the Greek way. But don’t get me wrong, you’re a Thracian and I don’t know why you’re here. You don’t belong here. This isn’t going to be any fun for you. You might wish I’d left you to die.” The guard turned and left.

Alexander sipped at the water and stood to look around. His head spun and he had to put a hand on the wall to steady himself but the feeling passed. He looked around the room and saw it was a wash room. There was a large bath sunk into the floor. He put his hand in and the water was cool, so he knelt on the step and pushed his whole head under the water. His head stopped hurting and throbbing and he knew he need to cool his body temperature, so he stripped off his tunic and eased himself into the bath. He lay on his back with as much of his skin under the water as he could and managed to find a position where just his mouth and nose were out of the water.

His mind drifted as he lay there weightless but noise in the room, distorted by the water in his ears made him lift his head to see if the guard was back. As he did, a hand gripped his hair and dragged him from the water. Alexander’s natural reaction was to grab the hand with both of his to try to relieve the pressure on his scalp, but that meant he had no protection for his body as it was pulled across the step and scraped the skin from his back.

He was dumped on the stone floor and managed to look up. Xenophon was stood over him.

“Do you think you’re something special here as well?” Xenophon screamed.

“No, no, I just….”

Xenophon kicked him in the ribs to cut him off.

“You talk to me when I tell you to, cadet. You thought you could lord it up on Samos with your arse-buddies looking after you, but they’re not here now.” Xenophon’s voice echoed off the walls. Alexander rolled onto his side and curled into a foetal position. His skin screamed from the sunburn and he fought to get his breath from the kick from Xenophon.

“Who do you think you are? I’ll tell you who you are, you’re Thracian scum. You’re not fit to be here. If you hadn’t given your arse to Nicanos, you wouldn’t be.” Xenophon jabbed him in the kidneys with the toe of his sandal. Alexander arched his back in protest and groaned again, .

Alexander was aware of the presence of others in the room, but he had his eyes tight shut against the pain that wracked his body.

“You should be a slave, Thracian scum. You should never have been allowed to enter these sacred walls. This is where the sons of Athens’ warriors come to learn to follow their fathers into battle. Not the bastard offspring of a Thracian whore. I heard the Thracian women were supposed to be more fearsome than the men, but all your mother did was open her legs. Maybe she tried to screw your father to death.”

There were a few sniggers in the room. Alexander cracked his eyes open and saw a few of the cadets stood there. They were naked and must have been drawn by the noise of Xenophon shouting and screaming.

“This scum diminishes this academy. He’s been sent here and there’s nothing we can do about that. He lied and cheated to get himself out of trouble. Pericles couldn’t see through him, but I did and so did the syntagmatarchis. This scum was a stowaway on one of the troop ships. He was supposed to scout for us but led a troop of fine men to their death, then he spied on us for the Samians. How else do you think a bunch of farmers and artists gave us so many problems? If it wasn’t for fierce warriors like myself, under the fine leadership of Zosimos, Athens would have been embarrassed among the city states. Can you imagine what the Spartans would have thought of us? All because of this scum. Make sure everyone knows who he is.”

“No, he’s lying…” groaned Alexander.

Xenophon kicked him in the stomach and took the wind out of him.

“We have to let him stay for now, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to train him, just so he can fight against us for Thrace. Take him to the dormitory. Make sure you look after him.”

Alexander was grabbed roughly under each arm and dragged from the room. He tried to get his feet under him, but his captors moved too quickly. They turned a few corners, then entered a larger room and dragged Alexander to the middle then dumped him on the floor.

“See this boys?” said one of his captors. “This is a Thracian who thinks he is joining our academy. He’s a Thracian and a Samian spy. He’s the reason your father died, Aethon.”

“No, no it’s lies…” Alexander groaned again.

“Are you saying that Phaedo is lying, Thracian?”

“No… Xenophon.”

“I suppose the syntagmatarchis is lying as well? You’d say anything to save your own skin, scum. My father’s dead because of you.”

The boy called Aethon leant over him and so the punch that landed didn’t have a lot of power, but it caught him on the cheek before he had chance to cover himself. The second one was harder and he managed to get his arms in front of his face before the third landed. A kick in the back made him curl back into the foetal position again and try to protect himself as much as he was able. The blows kept coming. He didn’t know how many of them had joined in, but there was more than the two boys whose names he knew. The blows rained down on his arms and sides. His back took all the kicks and he tucked his chin into his chest to protect his head as much as possible. Someone stamped on his exposed right leg and used their heel to inflict the pain. He gritted his teeth and tried to keep silent until it was over.

He’d experienced a few beatings in his time. He’d decided to fight back against the bullies back in Agryl and the beating he’d had for that had been the most recent and the worst. He deserved that one though. He’d told his bullies he was Thracian and made some vile comments about Greeks. It was the start of his troubles and why he’d eventually ended up here. That beating was from the boys that had targeted him over the last year, Piggy, Beetle-Brow and Smiler, as he knew them. But there weren’t as many then as there were tonight and certainly they weren’t as big and strong. This would be his worst yet.

Eventually, the blows stopped. Alexander stayed absolutely still. He cried now from the pain and humiliation, so he kept his head covered so no-one would see.

“You’ll never graduate from this academy, scum,” said Phaedo. This was followed by another kick.

Alexander lay on the floor, naked and bruised. He wanted to try to stretch out his body, check it for serious damage, but he daren’t move so he just stayed curled up on the cold stone floor.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3

FIRST MORNING

 

Once he knew the other cadets had gone to sleep, Alexander gingerly stretched himself out and started his inspection of himself. He opened and closed his hands, straightened and curled his arms and rolled his shoulders while still on the floor. He rolled onto his back and stifled a groan as the pain of the bruising there flooded his body. He touched his upper arms and forearms with each hand in turn and, although they were very painful and sensitive to touch, there was nothing broken. He did the same with his ribs and pressed on them with his hand. When he pressed his right side he sucked air in through his teeth in a hiss. Something was definitely broken there.

The muscles in both thighs felt like they wouldn’t work at all. He recognised the feeling because he’d had it before. It was Beetle-Brow’s favourite weapon back in Agryl. His cronies would hold Alexander and Beetle Brow would slam his knee into Alexander’s thigh, causing him to limp for a few days. This was going to hurt for a couple of days, but he knew if he kept rubbing olive oil into his legs, he’d be able to function. All he had to do was find some olive oil.

As the sky lightened, Alexander spent the next few minutes moving all his joints that had stiffened up. He wondered what the new day would bring. He didn’t have long to wait. A hoplamachos he’d never seen before appeared in the doorway.

“Everybody up and out,” he bellowed.

The cadets stirred from their beds and started to move out of the room straight away. A few pushed Alexander as they went past so he shrank back out of everyone’s path. When the dormitory room had cleared, Alexander stood. His legs were in a terrible state. He could hardly walk on them and felt like a newborn foal as he staggered along behind the last of the cadets. Some of the cadets turned off through a doorway, most likely the latrines, while others were going straight out through the colonnades which must lead to the parade ground. Alexander had the sense that the academy was a three sided building with the parade ground at its centre. They were on the east side.

As he was so dehydrated, Alexander had no need of the latrines, so he shuffled over to the colonnades where he could see. The cadets streamed out from both the east and west sides of the academy which meant the central, south side, must be for the hoplamachos. He estimated there must be about two-hundred cadets. They arranged themselves into military-style units by their age or size.

Alexander took a quick look around for water. He was still heavily dehydrated and needed to get a drink. He thought his chances might be limited so he needed to any opportunity he could. He shuffle-walked along the wing, glancing in dorms and doorways as he did and spotted an urn and cup in one of the rooms. With a quick glance around, he slipped in and grabbed the urn, drank greedily directly from it.

“A thief as well as a spy,” said a voice from the doorway. Alexander looked around to see Xenophon in the doorway. “Looks like you’re scum through and through aren’t you?”

Xenophon quickly crossed the small room and grabbed Alexander by the hair. He was dragged past the colonnades that surrounded the parade square to where Zosimos stood in the shade. The cadets were formed up and stood in the morning sun and watched the scene before them. Xenophon stopped and pushed Alexander in front of him, then stepped past him and stood next to Zosimos.

“So. The gods have seen fit to give you to me,” said Zosimos. “I thought they must be smiling on you after Samos, but it seems they were just playing a cruel trick on you. That fool Pericles might have taken a shine to you, but he can’t protect you here. You’re mine now.”

“Sir, I found him last night relaxing in the bath house, instead of waiting for your permission to enter the academy.”

Zosimos stared at Xenophon open-mouthed. Alexander knew to hold his tongue but he couldn’t hold back a smile. They had left him there for most of a day in the blazing sunshine and yet Zosimos was genuinely shocked that he wasn’t still there.

“What…what..?” stuttered Zosimos.

“That’s not all sir. I went to find him to explain where he needed to be and caught him stealing from a senior cadet’s room.”

Zosimos turned a deep red. His small eyes blazed with indignation.

“Cadets,” he squealed, his high pitched voice rose even higher in his outrage. “We have been landed with this Thracian in our hallowed academy. In what can only be a mistake, he has been sent to us to train with true Athenian sons. Now, we have no say in this, we all have our orders. But the hoplamachos and I know this boy. He was on Samos. We know he was spying for the Samians and many good Athenian men lost their lives because of him. He is a liar. The hoplomachos has just caught him stealing. On his first morning here!”

There was a low, dangerous murmur of noise from the cadets. Every eye was now on Alexander.

“We will not train him. We must endure his presence until this unfortunate error is corrected. Do not allow him to befriend you. While he may be a Thracian savage, he is very clever. He has dripped honey into the ears of seasoned veterans, a lochagos and Pericles himself. Do not be fooled by his appearance and youth. This boy is poisonous.”

The murmur from the assembled cadets grew louder.

“Xenophon, commence the training,” ordered Zosimos.

“What should I do with the slave, sir?”

“Leave him there. He can stay there all day.”

Xenophon walked away and screamed at the cadets. There were other hoplomachoi around and Alexander watched as they organised their training groups. Everyone ignored Alexander, which suited him. He needed to recover.

Once all the activities were underway, Alexander dragged himself slowly across the ground to the shade of the building and watched. There seemed to be three basic types of exercises going on. There were military drills of the kind he had seen Methiodos perform with his enomotiae. There were basic exercises for strength and conditioning and then there were the fighting exercises such as pankration, wrestling or boxing.

Alexander watched each one in turn, and took note of the fitness of the groups and the lead characters in them. The cadets that were of his age were no match for Alexander. They were unfit and their fighting skills were worse than useless. These were the sons of academics and statesman, coddled and weak. The academy might eventually turn them into officers, but it would take some time.

The older groups were much more of a challenge. Alexander watched Aethon in the fighting group. He was big and strong but he was over-reliant on his size and strength. Alexander stored that away for future reference.

Phaedo was the opposite. He was slim and wiry and was very carefully doing as little as possible in his exercises. He seemed to know exactly where the hoplamachos was and where he was looking.

Alexander turned his attention to the hoplamachos and started his appraisal with Xenophon. He stalked around giving orders to anyone and everyone. Alexander wasn’t surprised that he led no specific exercises as, Alexander knew, he didn’t have any skills. Instead he criticised each cadet and hoplamachos in turn, gave them instructions and, in the cadets case, gave them a sharp crack with the vine branch he carried.

Alexander watched as Xenophon intervened between two wrestling opponents and started to provide his own instruction. He slapped one of the cadets on the head as he did. The hoplamachos who supervised the group snapped his head around and then strode over.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m correcting their technique.”

“No, you’re corrupting their technique. I am the hoplamachos in charge of wrestling instruction. I tell them…”

“And I’m in charge of this training academy and that includes you. Don’t interrupt my instruction otherwise I will be forced to speak to Zosimos about your insubordination.” Xenophon sniffed loudly, then wiped his nose on his tunic. “Carry on.”

Xenophon walked away and the hoplamachos glared after him.

“Xenophon’s making his usual friends,” Alexander muttered to himself.

He was thirsty again, but daren’t move and draw attention of anyone.

The exercises stopped on a command from Xenophon and the cadets broke off and moved to the sides where they took turns to drink from large urns. There was an obvious seniority to the order of who got to drink first. Watching them drink made Alexander even more thirsty. He waited until all the cadets had taken a drink and returned to the exercise yard. When he was sure no-one watched him he stood and shuffled across to the first urn. The ladle hit the bottom of the urn and came out with only a dribble of water. He wet his lips on it and then moved to the other urn further along with a glance across to see if he had been noticed.

Alexander was relieved to find that this one still had water in it. He lifted the ladle to his parched lips and drained it then repeated again and again. His body was still wracked with pain, but the water definitely made him feel better. As he put the ladle in for another drink a blow to his kidneys dropped him to his knees and he spat the water from his mouth as he groaned.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4

THE MESS

 

Alexander turned his head to see who had caught him when his hair was snatched again and he was dragged backwards onto the sand. He was on his back and looked straight up at Xenophon.

“You just can’t stop yourself can you, savage?”

“I have to drink. I’ll die.”

“You have to do whatever I tell you and you don’t do it until I tell you to do it. What do I care if you die? It’s one less Thracian scum to kill later. Do you understand savage?”

A short time ago, Alexander would have reacted violently to being called a savage, but he just didn’t have the strength.

“Yes,” he mumbled.

“Yes what, scum?”

“Yes sir,” Alexander replied in a quiet voice.

“Well that’s not good enough, scum. You’ve had something that doesn’t belong to you. You can’t be allowed to keep it.”

Alexander frowned and tried to understand what he meant, but Xenophon’s look of vicious delight made his eyes widen in fear. Xenophon released the grip on his hair and stamped on his stomach. Alexander vomited up the precious water and then rolled onto his side and coughed, trying not to lose any more than he had. Xenophon wasn’t finished though and shoved Alexander back onto his back with his foot and then stamped on his stomach again. Alexander wretched but managed to keep the fluid from his stomach in his mouth, then swallow it back down.

“All done then?” Xenophon said and laughed. “Maybe next time, you’ll wait until you’re told to take a drink.”

Alexander watched Xenophon walk back onto the exercise yard. The cadets looked on with expressions of either fear or delight. Alexander would get no sympathy here. He rolled back onto his other side away from the eyes of the cadets.

“What are you waiting for?” Xenophon screamed. “The demonstration is over. Get back to your exercises.”

Despite his pain, Alexander smiled to himself. He’d managed to get a drink and he’d kept some of it down. It was a small victory.

Alexander lay on the floor and waited for something else but nothing came. No-one paid him any attention. He dragged himself backwards so he could lean against the slight step and watched. He was grateful he wasn’t allowed to exercise. If Xenophon did put him in with the other cadets it would have been torture because of his cracked rib and dead legs. He looked down at his body. There were black bruises on his arms, ribs, chest and legs. His back would look pretty grim as well. He massaged his legs to try and ease the pain in them.

After some more rotation of exercises, one of the groups were led off on a run outside the academy. They were gone for some time and Alexander marked time watching the shadows shorten as the sun rose higher. His skin started to prickle. He needed to stay out of the sun today. The running cadets returned wet with sweat but all together. Alexander studied Aethon. He wasn’t exhausted like some of his peers. Phaedo, on the other hand, had doubled over with his hands on his knees with the rest of the cadets, who were on the floor in the sand or collapsed against the pillars.

Xenophon shouted a command and the cadets all finished their exercises and assembled into groups in front of him as they had at the start of the day. Alexander wondered if he should join them but decided against it. He would stay here until he was told otherwise. After a few short statements from Xenophon about how poor their training was, they filed away and disappeared into the building behind him.

Alexander realised they’d gone to eat. He hadn’t realised he was hungry but his stomach now growled at the thought. Everyone had left the exercise yard so he used one of the colonnades for support to drag himself upright. He considered looking for a tunic to wear but he knew it would be a mistake. The cadets exercised naked, so he would stand out. He wouldn’t be allowed to keep it anyway.

Instead, he shuffled over to the area where the other cadets had disappeared. Alexander looked through the doorway to a large room with the loud din of two hundred voices of the cadets sat at long tables as they ate bread and oats. The bread was in large bowls on the table, with urns of water and the oats were served from huge urns at the far end of the room. Alexander shuffled along the wall to the large urn and tried to make himself invisible. There were a few spare bowls on the floor and he scooped one up, his ribs and legs groaned in protest at the movement.

The smell of the bread and oats almost made him pass out with hunger. Alexander dipped the ladle into the urn and filled his bowl. He’d decided it would be best to just squat against the wall rather than try at sit at one of the tables drawing attention to himself. As he turned from the urn he bumped into Phaedo who stood behind him.

“Sorry,” Alexander mumbled.

“Sorry for what, scum?” said Phaedo. “Sorry for shoving me, sorry for being a Thracian or sorry for spying and getting some of our fathers killed?”

All noise in the room had stopped and all eyes were on Phaedo and Alexander.

“I’m sorry for bumping into you.”

“Did you hear that boys? The Thracian scum isn’t sorry for getting out fathers killed. He doesn’t care.”

There was a murmur from the cadets. Phaedo was warming up and gave Alexander a shove.

“So you’re not sorry for the dead Athenians then, Thracian?”

“Yes, of course…”

“Did you hear that, boys? He’s sorry he got them killed. At least he’s admitted to being a spy.”

“What? No, I meant…”

“I don’t care what you meant, scum. You’re a Thracian spy and we don’t want you here. Why are you here?”

“Pericles sent me.”

“Pericles? The Polemarchos of Athens? Why would he take interest in a Thracian whore’s son? Xenophon is right. You’re lying scum.” Before Alexander had a chance to answer, Phaedo slapped the bowl out of his hand sending the oats splashing onto the floor. “You’re ruining everyone’s appetite. We cadets need our food to help us train and we can’t have someone making us all sick.”

Phaedo shoved Alexander away from him and then followed. Alexander’s legs screamed in agony as they were forced to move against the protest of his stiff muscles. Phaedo followed and bustled Alexander along ahead of him to the doorway and then with a last big shove, pushed him out of the room. The other cadets cheered, hollered and clapped Phaedo as Alexander landed on the hard stone floor. The wind was knocked out of him and he just lay there and tried to get his breath back.

At least no-one had followed him out to continue the job. Alexander brought his breathing back under control and then crawled away. He didn’t want to be in a position where all the cadets would walk past him, so he pulled himself behind one of the pillars out of sight. At least his stomach had stopped rumbling.

The cadets started to come back out of the mess hall and walked past Alexander out onto the sand of the exercise yard. Alexander shuffled himself around the pillar so they didn’t walk past him, sure that there would be someone who would take issue with where he sat, how he sat, or the fact that he still breathed.

He sat with the pillar obscuring his view and closed his eyes. He’d been bullied all his life by someone. Beetle Brow and others back in Agryl, Xenophon on Samos and now here. He took a deep breath. He’d just have to endure it.

 

 

CHAPTER 5

STEALING

 

Alexander watched the cadets exercise again from his position propped against the colonnade. The sun was high now and it must be mid morning. At least he was in the shade.

He’d been here less than a day and so far he’d been beaten twice, he was hungry, thirsty and sore everywhere from the bruising and the sun. At least he had a respite when he was at home or when he was on Samos. He had somewhere to go or someone to turn to. He had no-one here.

The cadets sweated and toiled over more drills, more exercises and more wrestling under the hot sun. There was probably a routine but, to Alexander, they just seemed to repeat the same things over and over. The hoplamachoi had them well-organised though and Alexander took his time to focus on each one to listen to their instructions. They were firm with the cadets but not unnecessarily brutal. They were here to coach the cadets, make them officers, not use the opportunity to abuse their authority. Although that wasn’t the same for everyone, of course. Xenophon continued to walk the exercise yard and ridiculed the cadets, poked fun at their efforts and generally criticised them. Alexander watched him and noticed he was careful about who he picked on. It tended to be the junior cadets and he also seemed to avoid two of the groups. Alexander watched for longer to check it wasn’t just a one-off. No, there it was again. Xenophon shouted and cajoled one group and then passed by the next group, as Alexander expected, then started again on another unfortunate victim.

After another couple of spates of jeering and taunting, he then walked toward the other hoplamachos that Alexander had noted and, as he did, the hoplamachos curled his lips back over his teeth and snarled something at Xenophon. Xenophon moved on and muttered under his breath. Alexander couldn’t hear any of the exchange but the facial expressions and body language was obvious. There were two of the hoplamachoi that had no love for Xenophon. In fact, it looked like he was afraid of them. One of them was the hoplamachoi who had been on guard when Alexander fainted and had brought him to the bath house.

So, there was something here he could use. He wasn’t naive enough to think they would befriend him, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or so Theokritus had told him. He didn’t know what to do with the information he had, but he knew it would come in useful at some point.

After more exercise, wrestling and drills, the cadets were called back up into formation and then released again. Alexander shuffled around the pillar again to avoid them as they passed by. This time they filed past without incident and off through other doorways. The exercise yard went quiet and Alexander waited. He was hungry and thirsty but didn’t want to risk moving. On the other hand, it was quiet now and this might be his only opportunity. Should he wait or move?

Alexander mentally shrugged. The gods would decide. He dragged himself upright and used the pillar for support. His legs had stiffened again and it took time to straighten up fully. He rubbed his tortured legs and tried to get the feeling back into them then flexed each one in turn to get the blood flowing. Once he was ready, he shuffled around the pillar and then took a good look around to make sure no-one could see him. The area was clear so he shuffle-hopped across to the doorway to the mess hall. He made sure there was no-one in the room and continued across to the water urn. He was famished, but needed to sort out his dehydration first.

The urn was still half full so Alexander dipped the ladle in and took a long drink. He repeated the process again and again until he felt sated. He closed his eyes and sighed. It was almost worth the pain for the water to taste as sweet as it did. Not quite, but almost.

Now, he needed to eat. He left the ladle and turned to look around and see if there was any food left. As he did, he started. A cadet watched him from his knees by the door. Alexander’s eyes went wide. There was a horse-hair brush and a bucket on the floor next to him. He must have been scrubbing the floor when Alexander walked in. Shuffled in more like, Alexander thought. What now?

The cadet looked about his own age and hadn’t called out or challenged him yet. Maybe there was a chance.

“Hello,” said Alexander.

The cadet just stared at him.

“I’m Alexander.”

“I know who you are, you’re the Thracian,” said the cadet.

“I’m not a Thracian. I’m Greek, like you.”

The cadet just stared at him and Alexander realised they looked nothing like each other. In fact Alexander looked nothing like a Greek at all, with his pale skin and red hair.

“Alright, I’m not just like you. My mother is a Thracian, but my father is from Athens.”

“I can’t talk to you Thracian, I’ll be flogged.”

Alexander frowned. “Alright, but just don’t say anything. You haven’t seen me. If I don’t find something to eat I’ll starve.”

The cadet said nothing and the two of them stared at each other for an eternity before Alexander decided nothing would happen. He turned away to look around. The vats of oats hadn’t been cleared away yet, although they were empty, but Alexander scraped the dregs out of them with his fingers to get the meagre amount that was left. His empty stomach protested but it was all he could get. When he cleared the first one he looked around at the cadet, but he’d gone. Had he just made himself scarce, or had he gone to report him?

Again, Alexander could stand here and fret about it, but he had to make a choice quickly. Did he get out before anyone came, or did he risk it and keep eating? Food or a beating? It was a tough choice, but he didn’t think his body could stand another beating. He shuffled over to the next vat and scraped as much as he could into his hand, then to the final vat where he did the same. He didn’t take the time to eat, he just did a fast shuffle back to the doorway.

As he approached the door he heard voices from outside. He glanced around and saw that there was another doorway at the far side, but too far away for him to get to in the state he was in. His only option was to see if he could stay out of sight the way the cadet did. He hopped over to the wall where he wouldn’t be seen unless whoever came looked for him. He swallowed and held his breath. Maybe it was someone going about their business and nothing to do with him, but he knew that was a forlorn hope.

As he feared, two people came through the doorway. The first person was bigger than the second but he wasn’t a hoplomachos. He strode into the room with the cadet behind him then stopped with his hands on his hips. Alexander slipped out as quietly as he could then hid behind a pillar outside. He realised as he did that the bigger cadet was Phaedo. It became certain when he spoke.

“Well, where is he?” said Phaedo.

“He was here, sir. He even spoke to me,” said the cadet.

“What? What did he say?”

“He said he was a Greek like me.” Alexander heard Phaedo snort at that. “Then he told me his mother was Thracian and his father was a Greek.”

“His mother is a Thracian whore, that’s true enough. But his father was no Greek. That’s just more lies. Does he look like there is even a grain of greek blood in him?”

“No, sir.” There was a pause, then Alexander heard, “But how is he here otherwise, sir?”

There was a wet noise and then a thud. Alexander knew the sound. The cadet had just been punched to the ground for his insolence.

“That’s none of your concern. If I even see you look at him again, you’ll answer to me. You tell all the other juniors as well. Anyone talks to the Thracian, I’ll have them.”

“Yes, sir.”

“This floor better be good enough for Zeus himself to eat off before I get back here for next meal.”

Phaedo left and Alexander relaxed. He opened his hand where the oats were squashed and started to eat. He didn’t know when he would get his next meal.

 

 

CHAPTER 6

FRIEND OR FOE

 

The cadet was afraid of Phaedo that was certain, but Alexander hadn’t given up on him yet. He needed help and he had to try to get it somehow. Once he was certain Phaedo had gone, Alexander waddled back out from behind the pillar and back into the mess hall. The cadet was in the same place he was before.

“Hello again,” Alexander said.

The cadet jerked like he’d been stabbed and his eyes flew wide. There was a moment of confusion when he seemed to be deciding whether to run or not.

“Phae…”

Alexander had seen the decision in his eyes. He ignored the pain in his legs and threw himself across the floor. He clapped his hand over the cadet’s mouth and wrestled him to the floor. Although he had been badly beaten, Alexander had been training on Samos for months with the men from his father’s enomotiae and was much stronger than the junior cadet.

The cadet struggled beneath him but Alexander had him pinned down.

“Listen, I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not like Phaedo. I just want to talk to you.”

The cadet’s eyes were wild with panic.

“Please, keep quiet and I’ll take my hand away. Do you understand?”

The cadet gave a small nod, his eyes wide and locked on Alexander. As soon as Alexander released the pressure on his mouth, the cadet tried to shout.

“Heeeeeelll….”

“Be quiet,” hissed Alexander. He was angry now. He tried a different approach. “I’m not a bully like some here, but don’t make me protect myself. Are you going to keep quiet?”

The cadet nodded again. Alexander’s eyes narrowed as he stared him in the eye and then released the pressure again.

“He…”

This time Alexander banged the cadets head on the floor.

“Enough,” he hissed. He needed to change his approach. “Listen to me. You’re supposed to be an officer cadet. If you don’t fight back now, you’ll be cowing down to these kind of people all your life. Believe me, I know. You have to fight back, even in a small way so you keep your dignity. There’s always a Phaedo or a Xenophon wherever you go. They pick on the weak. Make sure it’s someone else. Do you understand?”

The cadet just stared at him. Alexander realised he was wasting his breath. This kid, and that’s the only way he could think of him despite their similar size and age, was always going to be someone’s rabbit. Alexander hated what he was about to do, but he needed to survive.

“Listen to me. If I’m the person Xenophon and Phaedo say I am, you need to be careful. If I’m responsible for the deaths of Athenian hoplites and I’m a Thracian savage like they say, you don’t want to cross me. I’m dangerous. You don’t have to talk to me, but if you go to Phaedo again and report me, you’ll regret it. Phaedo is nothing more than the academy bully. I’ve been to war. No matter what you believe of my role, I can tell you I was there on Samos, on the battlefield and I’ve killed a few Samian’s myself. Don’t cross me.” Alexander stared into the cadet’s panicked eyes to make sure he understood. He did. “Now get back to cleaning and ignore me. I’m not here.”

Alexander wasn’t careful this time. He took his hand from the cadet’s mouth and got up off him. The cadet just lay there and looked up at him with fear in his eyes, but didn’t make a sound. Alexander stood over him. He didn’t want to, but he knew he had to get his point home, so he curled his lips into a snarl, then turned away. He kept his walk as normal as he could as he headed for the far doorway. He didn’t look back.

Through the doorway was a food preparation area. It was clean, but there must be some food somewhere. He didn’t want to push his luck and anger the gods, so Alexander decided not to hunt around further. He’d had some food, albeit a tiny amount and he couldn’t afford to be caught. He left and made his way back outside to sit himself against the pillar again and wait. He closed his eyes and let himself drift off to sleep. He hadn’t slept last night and didn’t know what tonight would bring. He trusted his instincts to wake him up when the cadets came back outside. It was late afternoon so the worst of the day’s sun had passed and the warmth soothed his bruised skin.

Alexander awoke with a start when he sensed movement, but not soon enough. He just had time to see the punch coming but not enough time to react. It caught him square on the cheek but he relaxed and rolled with the punch to diminish it’s impact. He fell to the floor and stayed there then waited for the next blow but tried not to do anything to instigate it. He waited and let the cadet slide past him. Just when he thought he was going to be safe, he felt someone stop beside him and tilted his head slightly to see who it was. He kept his eyes screwed shut but looked through his eyelashes. Phaedo.

“I know you’ve been sneaking around, Thracian.”

Alexander stayed silent. He’d learned from his last confrontation with Phaedo.

“What were you doing in the mess hall?”

Phaedo stared at Alexander and waited for an answer. When none came he kicked Alexander in the stomach. Alexander saw it coming and stayed relaxed to let his stomach absorb the blow.

“Well?”

There was nothing for it, Phaedo wasn’t going to let Alexander stay quiet. “I don’t know what you mean,” Alexander said.

Phaedo stared at him for a moment, then kicked him again, harder this time.

“Lying, Thracian bastard. That little shit saw you in there. Stealing again were you? You’re lucky I didn’t catch you. I think Xenophon would have let me beat you to death.”

Alexander didn’t doubt it but stayed silent.

“I’m going to keep checking on you, Thracian. If you aren’t in this spot when I do, you’ll be sorry.” Phaedo punctuated it with another kick. Alexander stomach started to hurt now, but he showed Phaedo nothing.

Phaedo snorted in disgust and then started to walk away, but then paused and spat on Alexander. He smiled in satisfaction then continued out onto the exercise yard. Alexander stayed where he was for a while then pulled himself back upright. He wasn’t sure whether Phaedo had meant for him to stay there on the floor or just stay on that spot, but he decided to take another risk.

The rest of the afternoon passed without incident and the cadets left the exercise yard again. This time passed the far side of the columns. Phaedo passed by and checked he was still where he was supposed and gave him a half-hearted kick as he passed. The exercise yard went quiet again and Alexander was left with his thoughts.

Could he befriend someone? He had to try, but he’d picked the wrong person. Someone who was already a target for the likes of Phaedo wasn’t likely to help him. They were already victims and he needed someone who wasn’t a victim. He needed a rebel. That was it! Alexander wracked his memory of the things he’d seen over the last two days. He went through the cadets that he’d noticed and considered, then discounted them in turn.

He was left with two possibilities. A wiry cadet who reminded him of Theokritus, who seemed to be slightly on the fringes of everything, not getting involved, but not being bullied either. Someone who had carved out a niche for themselves as a loner. He might be a possibility. The other one was a rebel. He was a target, that was clear, but not a victim. This one was slightly darker than a pure Greek. He might have some Persian to him. Maybe he was a half-breed like Alexander.

Alexander sat back in satisfaction. He was hurt, hungry and thirsty and everyone here hated him, but he had a plan. Now he needed to catch one of them when they were on their own.

 

 

CHAPTER 7

HERMES

 

The next few hours dragged on until the sun went down and Alexander decided neither Phaedo nor Xenophon would check on him now. He was surprised he’d avoided Xenophon for so long, but he wasn’t complaining. It was time to see if he could find one of his two targets.

Alexander pulled himself up on the column and worked his legs to get the movement back. It got slightly easier each time. His ribs were still sore and it hurt to breathe, but he could stand the pain. He hobbled across to the senior cadet’s dormitory. The doorway was open and he could see the whole of the inside if he positioned himself correctly. He judged that he would be difficult to see if he stood back from the entrance, in the gloom of the evening and the darkness around the pillars.

Alexander studied the inside of the dormitory. The cadets were in tunics now, bathed and fed, as they relaxed, talked among themselves or played pessoi, the strategy board game he used to play with his father. The memory gave him a pang of grief, but he shook it off. He couldn’t afford it. He worked his gaze around the room and soaked in the information, who spent time with whom and what the small cliques were. The cadets in the dormitory were in small groups of two to four cadets. Then he spotted what he was looking for.

The slim cadet, the one he classed as the loner, was sat on his own against the wall. No-one spoke to him and the cadet didn’t look up or try to engage anyone. It was just as Alexander had hoped. Now he needed to get him alone to try and connect with him.

Alexander watched from the shadows and took in more information about the social structure in the dormitory. After a while, one of the hoplomachos came along and ordered them to settle down for the evening. Alexander heard him come and manoeuvred himself out of sight. The cadets wandered to the latrine and back for their evening ablutions, but the loner didn’t move. When Alexander judged that everyone had returned, and the candles were extinguished, the loner got up and moved through the dormitory and out to the latrines. He didn’t acknowledge anyone else. This was Alexander’s chance.

He let the cadet pass and watched him enter the latrine, then followed him. He waited a few moments and then slipped into the room behind him. The cadet spotted him enter but said nothing. He finished urinating and then washed his hands in a bowl against the wall.

“Hello. I’m Alexander.”

“I know who you are.”

Alexander wondered if this would be the response he would get every time he introduced himself.

“Do you have a name?” Alexander asked.

“We all have names,” said the cadet, but didn’t offer what his was.

“I suppose,” said Alexander. He decided to dive straight in. “I need help.”

“Then you should talk to the hoplomachoi.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“That’s your problem.”

“I know that. But that’s why I’m talking to you. You don’t fit in here either. I thought you might help me.”

The cadets eyes flashed and he frowned. “Don’t think that I’m like you. I’m not. I don’t fit in with these puffed up fools because I don’t want to.” The cadet had gone further than he intended and stopped himself. “Mine’s a choice. You didn’t choose to be a Thracian. You just are.”

“No I’m not. I’m Greek. My mother was Thracian and I happen to look like her, but I was born and raised in Agryl.”

“If it looks like a Thracian, talks like a Thracian and stinks like a Thracian, it’s a Thracian.” The cadet shrugged.

Alexander’s face coloured but he fought his anger. “Think what you like, but you need me as much as I need you.”

The cadet sneered. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“Simple Greek logic. No-one likes you. You’re a loner, but no-one chooses to be alone. You can tell me that it’s your choice all you want, but if it looks like a victim, talks like a victim and smells like a victim, it’s a victim.” Alexander deliberately baited him with his own words.

“You Thracian scum,” the cadet snarled. He struck Alexander and knocked him to the floor. Alexander expected it and recovered quickly, his ribs screamed as he pushed himself back up into a wrestling crouch.

The cadet curled his lips into a mirthless smile. “I see you’ve had some training already.”

“Enough to beat you if I wasn’t so badly injured.”

“Hah! We’ll see about that, if you survive long enough.”

“Help me and you’ll get your chance. It would spit in the eye of Phaedo and Aethon.”

The cadet frowned. “I can spit in their eye any time I want.”

“Not like this. They hate me, but they’re only Xenophon’s lackeys. They only know what Xenophon has told everyone and they swallowed it like the puffed up aristocrats they are. You’re not the same as them.”

“I’m not like you either.”

“No, but we’re both outsiders. If I survive, I’ve got one over on them. That’s all I need to do.”

The cadet narrowed his eyes and looked at Alexander, then walked out. Alexander considered calling after him but thought better of it. Had he got somewhere or overplayed his tiles? He’d just have to wait and see. Everyone was settled down for the night, so Alexander relieved himself and went outside. The night was warm but he knew if he stayed out here naked, he’d freeze to death. He needed to find something to wear.

Alexander had only seen part of the central south side of the academy and the east side where the gate was, but nothing behind the rooms at the front where the colonnades faced onto the exercise yard and parade ground. He needed to explore deeper and find somewhere to rest. He crept through the mess hall and out of the doorway at the back. Through the food preparation area there was a corridor with doorways either side. To his left there were noises. This must the hoplamachoi so he turned right to avoid them. He stuck his head in the first doorway and this was a small empty room. Further on was another bath house and then next was a small room with a bench to sleep on. It was unoccupied, but he guessed someone must sleep here. He had a quick look around and found a tunic on the floor, so he put it on. He felt better already.

He left the room and continued along the corridor. He heard voices from a room off to the right, which he guessed was where the dormitory was and ducked into a storage room. He listened as the voices passed. He couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like Phaedo spoke to someone who he didn’t recognise. He stayed completely still and hardly dared to breathe.

When the corridor was empty again, he looked around the small room. There were brushes, pails and other maintenance parts around and Alexander squeezed in between them then pulled them around him to try and hide him from a cursory glance and then fell asleep.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8

THE DAGGER

 

Alexander became aware of movement in the corridor. He hadn’t been discovered so he waited until it was quiet and then picked his way out of the cupboard and made his way back outside. The sun had just come up and he let it warm his skin as he waited unnoticed on the far side of the colonnades for everyone to go into the mess hall. Once he thought everyone was gone, he made his way to the latrine.

As he turned to leave, he saw a figure in the doorway and started. It was the cadet from last night. Alexander watched him and waited for him to speak.

“I was thinking about what you said last night,” the cadet said.

“Well?”

“I think you’re right. You can help me.”

Alexander couldn’t mask his relief and the smile that crept across his face. “What’s your name?”

“Hermes. First I need to do something for you. Here.”

Hermes pushed a something across to him. Alexander couldn’t see it in the gloom, so he took it and lifted it into the light. It was a dagger fashioned out of wood that was as hard as steel. It wasn’t sharp but it was well made and looked dangerous.

Alexander frowned. “I have no use for this.” He tried to give the dagger back to Hermes.

“No, no. Keep it. If they discover you at night, they’ll kill you. Phaedo or Aethon. Either of them will. You need to be able to protect yourself.”

“I can’t kill another cadet.”

“Then you’ll be killed. You can’t hide out in the store room forever. Someone will find you.”

Alexander’s eyes went wide. How did he know?

“Okay. I’ll hide it somewhere.”

“Now, I’d get rid of that tunic before someone sees you. Put it in the storeroom with the dagger while everyone is at breakfast.”

Hermes turned and left for the mess hall. Alexander waited until he was sure the area was clear and then moved to the dormitory. He knew he couldn’t pass through the mess hall again and from last night that there must be a second doorway into the central corridor. He crossed the dormitory and the doorway was at the far end where he expected. With a quick check to make sure the corridor was empty, he crept along the wall, ready to duck into a doorway if anyone came. At least his legs moved better. They were still uncomfortable but they seemed to work properly.

Alexander stepped into the storeroom and stripped off the tunic and rolled the dagger inside it. He wadded it up as tight as he could and stuffed it into the bottom of a pail, then stacked as many other pails on top as he dared without it looking contrived. He stepped back and took a long look at his handiwork, then nodded in satisfaction. He turned to leave and bumped straight into a large figure that blocked the doorway.

Alexander fell backwards in surprise and shock but then his expression turned to fear as he recognised Xenophon. Before Alexander could react, Xenophon’s hand flashed forward and grabbed his ear.

“Now, now, now. What have we got here? The Thracian scum, sneaking around where he shouldn’t,” Xenophon sneered.

Alexander wondered at his luck. He’d ridden it for a while, but now the gods seem to have had enough. What were the chances that Xenophon would come past at this moment?

Xenophon dragged him into the corridor.

“Good work, Hermes,” said Xenophon.

Alexander’s eyes went wide as Hermes stepped from behind Xenophon.

“I’d seen him sneaking around yesterday, sir, and decided to follow. I knew the Thracian would be up to no good.”

“You did the right thing. I think you and I are going to get along just fine Hermes. I look after the people that look after me, you know. Being new around here, I need all the eyes I can get.”

Just then, Alexander realised that Hermes hadn’t actually lied to him. Hermes had said that Alexander could help him. It seemed like he had. Alexander held his tongue. He’d made a terrible mistake but there was no point complaining. He just had to see what happened now. He mentally prepared himself for the beating that he was sure would follow.

“I think we need to chat to Zosimos about this,” Xenophon smiled. “Come on, lets take a walk.”

Xenophon’s cheery voice didn’t extend to the iron grip he had on Alexander’s ear as he dragged him along through the mess hall and out into the exercise yard.

Xenophon and the other hoplamachoi assembled the cadets in parade formation, with Alexander in the space in front of them and they all waited for Zosimos. Alexander stood in the morning sun, naked again, where all the other cadets were still in tunics. Their exercises hadn’t started yet, but Alexander’s trials were just about to. After an extended wait, Zosimos waddled out from between the pillars and drew himself up to his full height.

“What’s going on, Xenophon?”

“Sir, permission to report?”

Zosimos waved at him to continue.

“Hermes, come out here.” Hermes trotted out to the front and stood next to Xenophon. “Sir, young Hermes here has demonstrated exemplary character by bringing to my attention the conniving of the Thracian.”

“Go on,” commanded Zosimos.

“In contravention of direct instruction from you, sir, the Thracian scum has been sneaking around the academy.”

“Then he must be punished, Xenophon. You are perfectly capable of dealing with this.”

“Of course, sir, if that were all. When I was brought to him by Hermes, we were fortunate to catch him in the act of stealing.”

“That is heinous, but nothing less than I expect from these savages. Very well, punish him severely.”

“Of course sir, as you command. Although there is one other thing.”

“Yes?” said Zosimos, irritation showed on his face.

“One of the things he stole was this.” Xenophon passed up the wooden dagger.

Zosimos turned bright red and exploded. “This is outrageous. What…? Where? How…?” Zosimos sputtered.

Alexander wasn’t sure what the meaning of the dagger was, but it was clear this wouldn’t be good.

Zosimos stepped forward and slapped Alexander. The blow wasn’t hard, but Alexander decided to exaggerate it and fell to the ground. There was no point making the situation worse, if that were possible.

“How did you get this?” Zosimos screamed.

Alexander decided not to stay silent but knew it wouldn’t help. “I found it.”

“This is my ceremonial dagger, presented to me by Plutarch for services to Athens. It was in my quarters with my personal belongings. What else have you stolen?”

“I haven’t been in your quarters, sir. I don’t even know where your quarters are. I found it.”

“Liar!” shouted Xenophon and Zosimos at the same time.

Xenophon stepped forward and kicked Alexander in the stomach. Alexander lay on the floor and contemplated the trick that Hermes had played on him. He was so focused on his own objective he’d lost sight of what Hermes might achieve. If they had been playing pessoi, Hermes had completely outplayed him.

“I want him flogged,” Zosimos shouted in his high pitched, female voice.

“That’s a great idea sir, but can I make a suggestion?” Xenophon said.

Zosimos rounded on him. “What? I want the skin flayed from him.”

“Of course, sir. But I think we should teach them all a lesson. If it hadn’t been for Hermes, we may never have discovered him. You and I know how underhand this Thracian is, but these cadets need to learn the hard way and start to emulate Hermes here.”

Zosimos narrowed his eyes. “What do you suggest, Xenophon?”

“Well sir, two things. First, I think the whole cadre should be punished, other than Hermes here who should be given a reward. The rest need to be more wary. In battle, such inattention would lead to their death, or the death of their hoplites. We can’t allow that to go unpunished. Maybe they’ll be more alert for the Thracian in future. Second, our martial exercise idea should be introduced so that they all understand why we’re here. We need to filter out the weak.”

Zosimos smiled. “As long as he is whipped first.”

Xenophon turned to Hermes. “You can have the honour of lashing the Thracian. I’m sure it won’t be the last time you’ll have to lash someone if you go far, so you might as well start now.”

Hermes nodded.

“The rest of you will embody the spirit of Pheidippides and go for a long run. Your hoplamachos will take you out running until next meal so you can reflect on what it would be like if you’d been as unfocused and inattentive with a spy in your camp once you’ve left this academy and joined the army. You are being punished now so that in future your comrades will be safe from spies. So that we will be safe in the academy from this Thracian.”

Alexander felt the weight of the glares from the cadets assembled behind him. He thought his time here was bad, but it was now far worse. Xenophon had made him into an even bigger enemy than he already was. His deeds weren’t stories any more, they were real for every single cadet and hoplamachos here, thanks to Hermes.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 9

LAST MAN STANDING

 

The cadets left for their long run and glared at him as they filed out of the gate. Alexander took some small satisfaction that the hoplamachoi glared at Xenophon instead, as they had to lead the run. It was small comfort.

“Come on then, lets get on with the fun,” Xenophon said. He reached down and grabbed Alexander by the hair and dragged him over to one of the sword practice poles. These were stout tree trunks with protuberances in the rough position of arms that the older cadets could practice their sword skills against with weighted wooden swords.

Xenophon pulled him up and stood him against the trunk, then stepped to the other side.

“Here, pull his hands round,” Xenophon said to Hermes.

Once his hands were wrapped around the trunk, Alexander felt his hands tied together to hold him in place. His legs felt weak so he was glad of the support and he knew he would to need it shortly.

“Wait here,” Xenophon said to Hermes.

When Xenophon left, Alexander said “Why? Why would you do this to me? Can you see what you’ve done? What you’re about to do?”

“I don’t care about you, Thracian. I know Xenophon’s kind, I’ve seen them all my life. I knew if I could get in with him it would mean an easy life for me.”

“This could kill me. Please take it easy on me.”

“I hope it does, you spying scum. I know what you did on Samos. I’m going to put everything I have into these lashes.”

Xenophon returned and handed him a whip.

“I thought there might be one of these around. This is from when we used to train cadets properly and all the hoplamachoi had these. I’ll be reintroducing them. We’ve gone soft in the modern day.”

“Quite right, sir,” said Hermes.

“Now, make sure you put your back into it, Hermes. Zosimos is watching. He likes a good lashing. Give him ten of your best.”

Alexander heard the hiss of the whip and then the sharp crack as it whipped across his back. A moment later, the pain shot through every nerve in his body. He screwed up his face and threw his head back in his fight against the scream.

The next one fizzed in and struck him across the shoulders. Alexander realised that the first two lashes had hurt badly, but weren’t anywhere near as bad as when he had been lashed by Ampelios. Maybe the lash wasn’t designed the same. Maybe it was designed for correction by the hoplamachoi instead of punishment like the one he’d had previously. Maybe it was just because there was a difference between being lashed by a cadet compared to a seasoned decadarchos like Ampelios.

All of this flashed through his mind before the third lash struck him. Alexander didn’t want Xenophon to take over so he screamed as loud as he could in response this time.

“That’s better, put some effort in. Make him sorry. See if you can whip the Thracian out of him,” Xenophon laughed.

Alexander heard Zosimos giggle behind them. He counted the ten lashes and slumped against the rope that held him. By the end, the screams weren’t an act. His skin was on fire.

“Well done, Hermes…”

The lash hissed again and the pain shot through Alexander. He threw his head back and screamed again. He hadn’t been ready for the additional lash. When he choked back the last of his scream he heard Xenophon laugh.

“Okay, okay Hermes. It was only supposed to be ten,” he chuckled.

“Sorry sir. I got carried away and lost count. I was trying to do what you said and whip the Thracian out of him.”

Xenophon laughed again. “You’ll never do that, cadet. He’s a nasty, conniving, Thracian bastard through and through that one. Let’s go get some water while we wait for the others to come back. That was thirsty work.”

“What about him, sir?”

“Leave him there. The blood will dry in the sun.”

They left and Alexander slumped back against his bonds again. Tears of pain and frustration ran down his face.

Alexander hung against the post and tried to focus on the sun that warmed him. It wasn’t at its hottest yet so it wasn’t painful to his burnt skin. If he focused on that, it took his mind off the pain from his back. Each time he moved, it created new agonies.

After a while, the cadets returned to the camp. Alexander could hear but not see them behind him. He heard them pant and mutter and some came closer, but no-one said anything to him, or about him. He pressed his face to the wood and tried to stand to take the weight off his arms. He had little strength in his legs so he leant against the post to support himself enough to relieve the pressure on his shoulders.

A shadow came close and then passed into his vision. It was the guard who had helped him on the first day. The expression on his face was fierce and dark and Alexander braced himself for more punishment. When the hoplomachos pulled out a sharp knife Alexander expected the worst. The hoplomachos cut through his bonds in a few strokes and Alexander fell to his side. He tried and failed to keep his back from contact with the sand and he hissed through his teeth as the salt went into his wounds.

“What are you doing, Timon?” demanded Xenophon. Alexander watched from the floor as the hoplomachos named Timon rounded on Xenophon, his body tensed.

“The Thracian shouldn’t be here,” Timon growled, “and if it pleases you to bully and beat him, that’s your choice…”

“You have that right…”

“But I won’t stand by and watch a child die in front of me because of his race. I am a hoplite of Athens and that isn’t our way and it isn’t what we should be teaching these cadets. Otherwise we are no better than the savages.”

“He’s not a child, he’s a Thracian spy…”

“We only have your word for that, Xenophon. And I for one don’t trust anything you say. He’s a Thracian, I can see that with my own eyes, but that’s all I’m prepared to believe.”

“Are you saying you don’t believe the syntagmatarchis? That Zosimos is lying?”

“I believe what I can know. I was sent here because I have fought many battles and I have things I can teach the new generation. But being a hoplomachos doesn’t mean I’ve lost any fighting skills, so be careful how far you’re prepared to go with this Thracian.” Timon left the unspoken threat to hang in the air, fixed Xenophon with a glare, then walked off.

Xenophon sniffed and wiped his nose on his tunic, then looked down at Alexander.

“Don’t kid yourself that will matter, Thracian. You won’t survive the war game we have next now that all the cadets hate you even more than they did before. I’ll make sure of it and there’s nothing Timon will be able to do about it.”

Timon returned with a cup of water and Xenophon gave him a disgusted look then left.

“Thank you, Timon,” said Alexander.

“Don’t get me wrong, Thracian. I have fought in Thrace. I have no love for your people. It’s only our Greek civility and humanity that made me do this. In the same circumstances, I know your people wouldn’t extend the same civility.”

“I wouldn’t know, I’m Athenian,” said Alexander, then took a drink from the cup. It tasted beautiful.

“If you say so. I don’t know what those two have planned, but you’re in the hands of the gods now.”

Timon stood and walked away. Xenophon called the cadets into formation in front of Zosimos. Alexander swivelled into a position where he could see. No-one paid him any attention, all eyes looked at Xenophon.

“As you can see, the Thracian has been punished for his theft. But he is a savage and doesn’t know better. You,” Xenophon waved his arm and encompassed the cadets in front of him, “should be alert. You have become soft under the previous syntagmatarchis. Zosimos intends to change that and turn you into warriors. The most important thing for a warrior is to learn to fight. So we have a new wargame that you will compete in. There will be only one winner. The winner will receive privileges.”

Xenophon paused to let the information sink in. “You will fight as individuals against each other simultaneously. The winner will be the last man standing.”

Timon stepped forward and addressed Zosimos. “Sir, this is madness. There are two-hundred cadets, they can’t all fight at the same time. We will be lucky if they all survive.”

“Come, come Timon,” said Zosimos. “You say you have been to battle.” Timon bristled at the accusation that he had lied but held his tongue. “Isn’t this just what it is like in hand to hand fighting on the battlefield? Are we not preparing them for the realities of battle? Fighting isn’t always a controlled dance in front of a watchful instructor. It is a gruesome, bloody, painful and unplanned endeavour.”

“How would you know?” muttered Timon under his breath.

“And if we lose a few of the weaker cadets, so be it. We can focus more attention on those that will do Athens proud. Carry on, Xenophon.”

“The hoplomachoi will not intervene in the fighting,” Xenophon said to the cadets, but the instruction was aimed at the hoplomachoi. “No-one can surrender. You will be defeated when you are too injured to continue, or you are unconscious. The winner will be the last man still standing when everyone else is defeated. Anyone who feigns injury will be lashed.”

He gave a pointed look at Alexander, sat on the floor, his back caked with blood. The eyes of the cadets followed Xenophon’s look and understood their own fate.

“Now, everyone prepare yourself to fight,” Xenophon shouted with glee.

The hoplomachoi moved to the colonnades as the cadets took up positions on the exercise yard and glanced warily at each other in fighting stances. Alexander started to pull himself to his feet to move away from the carnage to come but was grabbed from behind by Xenophon. Xenophon pushed him to the centre of the exercise yard and the cadets parted before him.

“We don’t allow cowards here, Thracian. Everyone joins in this game.” Xenophon pushed him to the floor and then walked away. The cadets that surrounded him all faced inwards and glared at him.

“Just remember why this is happening,” shouted Xenophon. “The Thracian fooled everyone other than Hermes, the only one paying attention. You are all being taught a valuable lesson.” Xenophon looked at Zosimos.

“Begin!” Zosimos shouted.

 

 

CHAPTER 10

DEFIANCE

 

Alexander looked around. The cadets eyed each other from their positions spread loosely around the exercise yard and parade ground. He was in the centre and a circle of a dozen cadets faced him. He turned slowly. No-one had moved yet anywhere.

“Begin!” screamed Zosimos, punctuated by a crack from the whip that Xenophon still had in his hand.

The crack seemed to spur everyone into action at once and Alexander saw the whole yard erupt into movement and noise. The cadets around him advanced and Alexander raised his arms to protect his face. He couldn’t fight this many, so he would try to survive instead. The first blow landed on his arms and he reeled backwards, straight into an advancing cadet who shoved him the other way. He was pushed around and punched before one of the cadets tripped him and he went down. Alexander curled into a foetal position that had become a regular occurrence, and let the blows rain down on him. The cadets crowded in on their knees and took turns to punch him, which was nowhere near as bad as if they had been stood and kicked him. It was a small mercy. His ravaged back took more damage and he gritted his teeth against the pain.

***

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Cadet: Olympian Book 2

Athens 438 BC "So the gods have seen fit to give you to me," said Zosimos. "I thought they must be smiling on you after Samos, but it seems they were just playing a cruel trick on you. That fool Pericles might have taken a shine to you, but he can't protect you here. You're mine now." Alexander has survived the Siege of Samos and been sent to a military academy as a cadet. The battles with the Athenian army are nothing to what he faces in the Academy. With his life in danger from all sides, Alexander must draw on everything he has learned just to survive, but is survival enough? It isn't long before the fight back starts, against every cadet, the trainers and the head of the Academy. Let the battle commence..........

  • Author: Lee Ness
  • Published: 2017-02-03 07:20:13
  • Words: 78060
Cadet: Olympian Book 2 Cadet: Olympian Book 2