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Hoplite: Olympian Book 1

Lee Ness

Lee Ness writes both fiction and non-fiction books plus non-fiction articles. He balances writing with being head coach of an athletics 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.

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Before you start…

The Second book in this series, Cadet: Olympian Book 2 is now available at a special pre-order price of 0.99 until 30 June 2016


by Lee Ness

Copyright ©2015 by Lee Ness

Published by Lee Ness at Shakespir

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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.

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I would like to thank David McIntyre and Gary Kinghorn for patiently reading every word of the first draft of Hoplite and providing constructive feedback on the plot and characters. I hope I have done your efforts justice.


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, equivalanet 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 drill instructor.

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

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.

Polemarch – 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 stadum 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.

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

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.


By J. J. Barthélemy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Phalerum, 440BC

Alexander’s senses were assaulted by the noise, sights and smells and he stopped with his face wrinkled. The hard jolt from behind knocked him forward and he stumbled into others entering the port. People pushed him back with shouts of “Watch it.” He turned to see who had shoved him out of the way and saw another of the many soldiers entering the port. This one was average height but thick set, not muscular, just overweight. His dull and tarnished armour matched his greasy hair and beard. He sneered at Alexander then sniffed. “Watch where you’re going, urchin.”

“But you bumped into me!” shouted Alexander.

“I’m a hoplite of Athens, so you should make way, street rat.” The soldier put a thumb to his nose. Blowing hard, he snorted mucus and snot out of one nostril at Alexander’s feet, smiling with pride at the result.

“That’s disgusting,” Alexander couldn’t help himself. The hoplite replied by cuffing him hard around the head, knocking him to the floor before walking away.

Alexander heard the word “Scum,” as he tried to scrabble away from the feet trampling around him and get back to his feet. He could see his assailant, who now pawed at one of the women, who in turn was pushing at him trying to wriggle away. Alexander watched him lick her face and receive a slap in return. The soldier pushed her away laughing and continued his journey, barging through the crowd. Alexander shook his head and searched again for his father.

Alexander spotted his father’s group and hurried to catch them. He thought Athens stank, remembering his one visit there, but this smell shocked him. His sensitive nose, used to open space and clean air wrinkled again at the stench of filth, garbage and bodies. His eyes started to water and he held his tunic over his face to try to breathe without retching.

The port of Phalerum opened out before him. There were troop ships arranged around the port and Alexander counted twenty that he could see. Some were moored in the docks being loaded, some were anchored off shore waiting. He paused to watch people teeming over the moored ships with hoists, loading barrels and crates of supplies. His head swam from the cacophony of shouting and noise of the port. In front of him, a hive of activity and movement created a seething mass of indiscernible people like a nest of snakes. The bodies seemed to be moving against each other in one teeming bulk, each part sliding over and moving around the next in a space too small to hold them all. He had only experienced this many people at the Panathenaic games but they weren’t moving as much as this. As they got closer, figures became more discernible with soldiers milling around waiting to board ships and hawkers moving between them selling all manner of goods. Alexander saw a stream of scantily dressed women moving through the crowds selling something as well, although he couldn’t see what they were selling.

Alexander pushed his way towards the waterfront. His small size allowed him to slip between people and squeeze through the tight press of the crowd in the port. He managed to find a large iron bollard and by standing on it he could just see over the throng. With relief, he spotted the group with his father in it a short distance away. As he watched, the soldiers in his father’s group met up with another bunch who seemed to have been waiting for them. The man his father called Methiodos seemed to arrange them so that they closed up into a tighter formation of four lines of eight with no more than a word. The throng now flowed around and to either side of the thirty-two men without touching them, they somehow stood in an isolated area of their own, segregated from the rest of the crowd as if by an invisible barrier. Alexander noticed that no-one tried to squeeze through their lines. A couple of hawkers did try to sell them something but the men just stared ahead and the hawkers soon moved onto more receptive prey. No-one bothered them after that. They marched through the crowd, Methiodos leading the way, heading towards the far end of the port. Alexander jumped off the bollard and followed for a short time along a parallel course to them on the harbour front where the crowd thinned, but it meant he lost sight of them again.

A barrel waiting to be loaded provided another platform to raise himself from, so Alexander jumped up onto it and scanned the harbour front again, trying to pick out his father or his companions in the seething mass in front of him, acclimatising his other senses as he did so. He spotted his father’s group emerging from the crowd further along to his relief they formed up in full view as Methiodos detached himself and disappeared into the crowd. Alexander could feel time slipping away from him, his chance to talk to his father diminishing as it passed. This looked like their destination. If he didn’t get to him before he got on a ship he would have failed.

Methiodos’ enomotia of thirty-two men were the only ones who stood in formation. Some of the other soldiers jeered at them but most ignored them as they sat and gambled or rested, waiting for their orders. At length Methiodos returned and marched his men to a jetty at the other side of the port where stevedores loaded a troop ship with supplies. Alexander followed unseen through the throng of people although he couldn’t keep them in sight because of his size. Methiodos gave a command and the men relaxed, finding places to sit in the meagre shade available. Alexander almost stumbled into them, getting closer than intended, trying to see where they were, and ducked behind a stack of water urns while he tried to work out what to do next.

His father sat on a bale of sailcloth chatting with another hoplite. Alexander wondered if he should take his chance now. He weighed the options. He could approach his father while he talked with this other soldier, which wasn’t ideal, but it might be the only chance he would get. He considered how his father might react and concluded that he would be in for a shock either way. Lysander wouldn’t expect Alexander to have followed him all the way from Agryl, but Alexander had to talk to him before he left for battle. The risk of missing him altogether was now greater than the risk of his reaction. He decided to take the chance and approach him.

“What are you doing skulking around there boy?” a voice boomed from above him.

Alexander started and looked up in terror at the owner of the voice. A large fat man with a big bushy black beard loomed over him with a large sack thrown over his shoulder. Alexander stole a glance back at his father and saw with relief that no-one paid him any notice among all the other sights and sounds of the harbour.

“Here, carry one of these for me and I won’t throw you into the water,” the stevedore chuckled, shoving an urn at Alexander.

Alexander manoeuvred the urn into a position on his shoulder where it would be between him and the soldiers, hiding his face from his father should he happen to look his way. He didn’t want to be noticed by accident. He followed the stevedore onto the ship and into the hold.

“Put it over there with the others and then come and get another” The stevedore put down his sack and didn’t wait for Alexander to follow as he made his way up to the quay. Alexander followed up the ramp but when the stevedore didn’t look back, he paused and shuffled backwards, into the shadow of the hold where he could still watch while remaining unseen. He needed to escape the ship so he could get back to his father. If he left on a different ship while Alexander hid on this one, then he would have lost his chance. The stevedore looked around seeking out his unwilling helper when he got to the stack of urns again. After a moment, he shrugged his shoulders and returned to his own labours.

Alexander crept back into the hold working his way between the stacks of urns and the other crates and provisions trying to find a way out that would be out of sight of the stevedore. After the searing bright heat of the port, it took Alexander’s eyes a few moments to adjust to the cool and dark of the hold. The hold took up two thirds of the length of the ship with a ramp at one end and a large hole for hoisting provisions into it in the middle. Alexander worked his way around, keeping to the shadows as he listened for the return of the stevedore. As he heard footsteps on the gangplank, he threw himself under the ramp, squeezing as close as he could to the bottom out of sight.

The ramp above him thumped and vibrated as people came and went loading the ship, so he stayed as still as he could. Each time he crept out from his hiding place to try to escape, he heard someone else approach, causing him to scuttle back into hiding. The loading got busier as large crates were passed through the hole in the roof and he heard people moving around the hold and shouts of instructions. To his relief no-one discovered him and so he made himself comfortable as he could while he waited, listening to the constant activity a few feet away from him. He must have dozed, exhausted by the journey to the port and the stress of the situation he was in, lulled by the gentle swaying of the ship as the loading continued. He awoke with a start and cracked his head on the ramp above him as he became aware of a change in the ship. It was the absence of noise in the hold must have alerted his subconscious.

He lay still and listened. No sound came from inside the hold and although there was a lot of noise nearby, it was muffled. He reasoned that it must be on the deck so he lay still, waiting until he knew what was going on. The hold started to go darker as the loading hole was covered over and he realised that the loading must be finished. He still could not hear anyone moving around the hold so he crept out from his hiding place, he needed to get off the ship and find his father’s enomotia again.

Alexander decided that there was no-one around and started to move from under the ramp but, before he could make his escape, he felt the ship rock as loud tramping came from the gangplank. He froze in position while he tried to work out what this new sound meant. Whatever it was, the ship was noisier somehow. After listening for a short time, he realised that the troops were boarding the ship. He needed to get away, so he dragged himself fully our and from his hiding place and made his way to the ramp. Maybe he could just run past them all before they realised he was there. Then, to his horror, the ramp down into the hold started shaking and the tramping came closer as the soldiers started coming down it into the hold to shelter from the sun.

He was trapped.


Aegean Sea, 440BC

The noise of boots coming down the ramp seemed to last a lifetime for Alexander, as if the whole of the port had been up on the main deck and now sheltered in the hold. The ship seemed to dip and then start to move more. He realised in shock that they’d cast off. With a loud crack of the sails taking wind, the ship surged on, soldiers falling, unbalanced by the sudden change in pitch. A few fell into each other with some good natured ribaldry from their unwilling crutches.

A few even fell to the deck, unable to find a tunic to grab to hold them steady. One stumbled onto the ramp, the change in level unbalancing him further causing him to fall off the ramp sideways and crash to the planks. The nearest soldiers laughed at him as he rolled around, trying to arrest his motion. With the laughter of his comrades ringing in his ears he drew himself up to his knees, his eyes rising to look straight into Alexander’s. A perplexed expression replaced his initial surprise and before Alexander could flinch back, the soldier’s hand flashed out and caught his ear in an iron grip.

The soldier drew Alexander out of his hiding place and raised him up for the other soldiers to see.

“Look what I’ve found,” the soldier holding him said and then sniffed before rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. To Alexander’s dismay it was the same soldier who he had clashed with on the dock.

“Is it a little fish? Shall we cook it, Xenophon?” one of the soldiers chuckled. Alexander hoped he was joking but wasn’t sure.

As the men around him laughed and joked, interest in the drama rippled through the hold. The men around him were teasing him, poking him and pushing him from one to the other. Xenophon grabbed him again and pulled him closer.

“What are we going to do with you little fish?” He sniffed again and pulled Alexander very close, then slowly licked his face from the cheek to the forehead as the men around them laughed and hollered. Alexander shrank back in disgust but was unable to pull away from the iron grip. “Hmmm, doesn’t taste like fish,” sniffed Xenophon with a sneer.

“Leave me alone!” shouted Alexander in frustration.

“Oh, I don’t think so little fish. You’re mine now.” His voice dropped to a malevolent growl. “You’ll be my slave.” He let go of Alexander’s tunic, but quick as a flash had grabbed his red mop of hair and lifted Alexander up by it, causing him to scream in pain. Some of the other soldiers lost interest as the scene escalated, but others looked on with glee. “You’re obviously just a Thracian stowaway, so no-one cares about you.”

“Not no-one. Put him down Xenophon,” a voice from behind Xenophon growled, the menace in the voice unmistakeable.

“Or what, Lysander? Finders keepers. Go and find another little boy to pleasure yourself with. This one’s mine.” He turned back to Alexander with a leer.

Alexander didn’t see the next movement but was dropped to the floor as Xenophon grunted with pain and fell to his knees, clutching his lower back and wheezing. Lysander loomed above him with a ferocious expression on his face. All eyes in the hold were now focused on the exchange. Xenophon climbed to his feet.

“You’ll regret that Lysander. You might call that Thracian whore your wife, but it doesn’t give you rights on every Thracian for your own pleasure.”

Lysander unleashed a vicious punch that caught Xenophon on the corner of the jaw, throwing him backwards into the soldiers behind him, three of them falling to the floor with the unconscious Xenophon.

Alexander stared open mouthed at the exchange. He looked back at his father and saw his eyes had turned to flint and his face had set into a scowl, the muscles in his jaw clenched and hard. His mouth was a tight line, the lips white. Alexander was expecting an instant outburst but Lysander walked away, grabbing Alexander’s arm and sweeping him up the ramp with him as he did.

After the cooler air and the gloom of the hold, the heat and brightness of the sun on the deck assaulted Alexander. He had no time to adjust as his father spun him round, their faces inches apart.

“What are you doing here?” Lysander spat out in a controlled fury.

“I don’t know,” Alexander replied.

Lysander stared at him, at a loss for what to say next. His mouth opened and closed a few times while he started to say something and then changed his mind.

“What do you mean ‘You don’t know?’ How are you here? I left you back at home with your mother. Why are you here? Does your mother know you’re here?” Lysander’s confusion was spilling out in the questions that were trying to arrange themselves in his head. It was clear he couldn’t comprehend how Alexander stood in front of him on the troop ship heading out into the Aegean.

“You left so suddenly and I didn’t know what to do or what to say, so I just followed you. It all happened so fast and I didn’t know what was happening. I wanted to talk to you before you left for battle, so I just followed. After all the problems I’d caused, I wanted to tell you that I was going to enter the Panathenaic Games so I could prove myself to be a true Athenian, a true Greek. You and mother would be proud of me again. I kept following to the port.” The words tumbled out. “I didn’t really think about it. When you got to the port, I waited to see what ship you were on so that I could find out where you were going but, while I was hiding, a stevedore saw me and made me help him. I hid from him under the ramp but couldn’t get away. I needed to make amends with you. Mother hates me so I had to have at least one of you that loves me.” Tears were welling in Alexander’s eyes as the story rushed out, his voice broke. “If you die in the battle, I’ll be on my own.”

Lysander paused for a moment staring deep into Alexander’s eyes, then he held him by the shoulders. “Your mother doesn’t hate you. How could you think that? She’s angry with you. She’s lived in Agryl for years and most people still don’t talk to her. She’s a Thracian. People used to spit at her in the street or assume she was a slave and treat her like one. After thirteen years, only a few people talk to her. She can never be an Athenian citizen though. She’s not allowed to own property, she’s only tolerated there because I’m in the army. Everyone already sees her as beneath them, but what you did has made things harder for her again.” Alexander winced at the reference to his run in with the town bullies that had led to this mess. “She’s angry with herself as well because she’s partly to blame, which is why I was angry with her.” Lysander’s voice was soft as tears welled in Alexander’s eyes. “She was struggling with it all and not coping with it, but don’t you see, I have had to leave and now you’ve disappeared? She’ll be beside herself with worry. We have to work out a way to get you back to her.”

Lysander straightened. His face had changed, he became the soldier again, not the angry father. He had a ‘What was done was done’ look on his face that Alexander had seen before. He tended to flash through the emotions and then get quickly to what needed to be done. He had done this in the few moments it had taken Alexander to tell the story and his military brain had moved on to what he needed to be do next.

“Wait here.” Lysander strode away. Alexander watched as he talked with Methiodos and then the pair of them crossed the deck to where two other men stood, one obviously an officer. After a time, Lysander looked over and summoned him over with a jerk of his head. Alexander rushed across the deck to where the four men stood waiting. When he arrived it was the fourth man who spoke.

“I hear you have joined the navy,” said the man in a deep voice. He was staring down at Alexander without blinking. He looked at first glance like a typical Greek, black hair, deep olive skin and very dark eyes. But his face was weathered and bore more than a few scars. His arms were thick, prominent veins standing out on them, visible through the black hair that covered them. He looked like he was just about to fight, his every muscle tense and ready, even as he looked like he was stood at ease on the deck. It was a strange but powerful combination, thought Alexander. He realised that the three men looming over him were waiting for a response while he was studying the man.

“What?” Alexander replied in confusion.

“What, sir,” Methiodos growled. It was Methiodos who had come to collect Lysander from their home where he was on furlough. Alexander was already scared of him. “This is Nicanos. He’s the Lochagos”

“What’s a lochagos?” The information was coming too fast for Alexander who struggled to keep up and hadn’t registered the instruction from Methiodos.

“Alexander!” A thunderstruck look arranged itself onto Lysander’s face but Methiodos jumped in before he could react to his son’s insouciance. “Alexander, I am a dimœrites in charge of a company of thirty two men, called an enomotia. Your father is a decadarchos, which means he is my second in command. Nicanos here is a lochagos and he is in charge of the lochos. A lochos is a large part of the army and the size is dependent on the experience of the lochagos. Nicanos here is very experienced and very important and so he has sixteen enomotia, almost five hundred men. He has fought many of our enemies in many different places and not only did he bring us back safely from Thrace, he also helped your father save your mother. For all of this, you will in future call him sir and pay him respect or I will personally throw you off this ship and you will see whether you can swim home.” Methiodos spoke in a calm voice but it had authority and Alexander was certain he would do what he said.

Alexander clamped his mouth closed while he considered what he said next. This wasn’t some fun adventure. He was seeing his father through different eyes, the men before him were not the farmers and labourers he was used to. They were hard-eyed, scarred veterans of the army. He believed Methiodos would throw him off the ship. He had never noticed just how different his father was from the other men at home but now he was among similar men it became more visible, starker somehow. The common features of the men around him making the features become more obvious rather than diminishing them. These men, Nicanos, Methiodos, the men in the hold, and his father too, were scary when you looked at them. They were big and muscular, the veins standing out in their arms and their necks. They had scars on all their exposed skin. He was glad his father was here with him.

“Go and see the first mate and he will assign you your duties until we reach land,” said the fourth man. He was different to the soldiers. He wore no armour, but he was as authoritative as Nicanos when he spoke. Alexander reasoned he must be the ships captain. “After that, he’s your problem Nicanos. He can’t stay on here once your men disembark, I don’t know what’s next for us or how long we’ll be.”

Alexander had learned enough in the last few minutes not to ask who the first mate was. He scuttled away to ask one of the other crew, leaving the adults to discuss what they would do with him and so he only heard the start of the apologies his father was making to Nicanos and the captain for his presence.

Alexander was set to work scrubbing the deck and started to wonder how long the voyage would last.


Island of Samos, 440 BC

As the days on the ship dragged on, Alexander brooded on the last few days. He tried to stay angry with his mother, but now that he knew his error, he couldn’t. He could only feel guilt and shame. He wanted it to be her fault, he wanted to have a reason why he’d run away, but he knew he had to take responsibility. He had finally snapped after years of bullying about his pale skin and his red hair. He had turned on the bullies and decided he was Thracian after all. That wouldn’t have caused a major problem except that he had gone on from that point and had very aggressively attacked Greece in general and Athens specifically. He didn’t really mean any of it, his father was Athenian after all, but the words had hit home and the backlash from the families of the bullies had been extensive.

What must his mother be thinking now that he had run away? His shame threatened to engulf him and he added salty tears to the seawater as he scrubbed the deck.

The next few days involved lots of scrubbing and other duties repairing fishing nets, sewing of sails and coiling of rope. He could see other ships either side of them and occasionally watched them until one of the sailors shouted him to chivvy him along or cuffed him on the head. He didn’t mind so much as he had never been this far away from land before and he found the ship to be a very interesting place. He found the sailors fascinating, a simple shout from the captain, relayed by the first mate, and they swarmed about the ship, each one knowing his place and his job. There were periods of inactivity while they waited for the next command and then they leapt into frenzied action again. At each activity, the ship pitched and yawed, picked up speed or turned. Alexander tried to work out what caused what and predict the movement of the ship, but the complex actions and the arcane commands were beyond him. The focus on these new experiences was only a temporary distraction from thoughts about his mother. One moment he would be watching the sailors with a smile on his face, the wind ruffling his red hair, the next something would remind him that his mother was at home alone and would be worried and he felt another wave of guilt hit him for enjoying himself.

During meal breaks, or at the end of his duties, he would make his way down into the hold to spend time with his father. The soldiers had made themselves comfortable and were snoozing or gambling in a random scattering. Lysander interrupted his conversation to introduce Alexander.

“Alexander, this is Theokritus. He’s an old friend.”

Theokritus just nodded and smiled and then the two men returned to their conversation.

Another soldier named Straton also spent time with his father and Alexander noticed him as well because of his size. He seemed to be too big to spend time in the hold. Alexander didn’t talk to any of them, just sat and listened, continuing his brooding. He and his father didn’t talk much. Alexander avoided it. He felt concerned that anything his father said would make his shame and guilt worse and he didn’t think he could stand it any more.

Alexander watched the troop ship become noisier and more active. The sailors didn’t seem to be having any periods of inactivity now, they were hardly coming down from the rigging. Alexander’s head spun with the continuous stream of commands he received from the first mate who was now in a continuos state of apoplexy. But the physical flurry of activity spurred his mind to work just as feverishly and in doing so he accepted his shame and guilt. He owned it and could do nothing about it. He deserved to feel ashamed but he kept asking himself what he could do about it? The time seemed to have dragged on for eternity, yet on the other hand, time seemed to have passed without any real sense of it’s passing. It felt odd, time dragging but flying by at the same time.

The ships disembarked their cargo and sailed off to battle the Samian navy. The army unloaded all the supplies and set up camp near to the sea where a ridge gave them natural cover from the city walls. Lysander took charge of Alexander and set him to work in the camp as they set up ready for the siege. He now felt a part of his father’s world and he loved it, but every time he started to enjoy himself, the black spectre of guilt over his mother’s worrying loomed in his mind. Each day that passed, the black cloud in his mind grew larger and darker, eroding his enjoyment of his father’s company. Each time he smiled, it froze on his face, laughter died in his throat and became ashes in his mouth. He couldn’t stand it any more.

Over their evening meal he chewed the food without tasting it, his mind wandering back to Agryl. “Father, I need to get back to mother,” he said, cutting his father off mid-sentence. Alexander didn’t realise he’d even been speaking.

“Yes, I know,” Lysander replied.

“Really?” Alexander asked surprised.

“Of course. You can’t stay here forever. We’re at war, despite the boredom. As soon as we can, you’re going home. We just don’t have any transports going back to Athens.”

“Oh,” said Alexander his face dropping. “I thought you wanted me here.”

“Your place is with your mother. You’ve got some apologising to do for running away and you can’t do that from here. Anyway, this is no place for a child.”

Alexander felt the heat on his cheeks and knew his face would be the colour of his hair.

“I’m not a child.”

Lysander gave him a hard look and Alexander hung his head.

“You know what I mean. You’re not an adult either. I’ve asked Nicanos when we’re expecting resupply or transport but there are none planned. You’re going to have to stay here a while until something changes. Looks like you’re stuck with me.”

Alexander snapped his head up and pulled his shoulders back. He and his father now had a plan, together, and he didn’t feel alone anymore. He couldn’t help the grin that split his face. He needed to get home, but he couldn’t do anything about it right now so he could relax. As the days passed, Lysander kept him appraised of what was going on as the Athenians prepared siege walls to blockade the city. He also learned that the Athenian fleet, led by Pericles who was in overall charge of the Athenian force, had routed the Samian fleet and had blockaded the Island from the sea.

The siege wall didn’t take very long to build as the Samians didn’t seem to be putting up any resistance. There were no casualties other than the occasional accident and after a scant few days of effort from the whole army, the Samians were blockaded on all sides. Once they completed the siege wall, Pericles promoted Nicanos to acting Syntagmatarchis and gave him authority for the siege and charge of the taxis of fifteen hundred men. Pericles then took half the ships, all the other senior officers and the remainder of the army away to Caria to deal with a threat from Persia.

“Isn’t that risky father, leaving us here with only part of the army?” asked Alexander when he learned.

“Not really. The Samians just need to recognise that they have made a statement and rattled their gums and now they need to come to a new treaty with Athens. It’s just a negotiation. We hold them under siege for a while and then they come to terms. It happens.” Lysander sounded bored by the politics of it.

The days soon fell into a routine once the camp and the siege wall were established. Methiodos assigned Alexander new duties, cleaning armour and equipment for his father’s enomotia. He tidied their section of the camp after meals and in the mornings. The black cloud of guilt had receded, no longer the sharp crippling pain any more. It hardly intruded after a while, more like a dull toothache. He came to know some of the men better, listening as they swapped stories. Initially, they were careful to avoid anything that wasn’t for young ears, but after a few days of avoiding the stories and then a short time longer of apologising to Lysander for any raunchiness, they all just gave up, Lysander included, although he was careful not to join in the lewdness. For his part, Alexander didn’t understand much of what they were talking about anyway so he drifted off to his own thoughts, worrying about his mother and when there would be an opportunity to get home. He listened with much more interest when they traded stories of battles. Alexander realised that these men had shared a long history together that his father had only touched on. When the men realised Lysander hadn’t shared any of his exploits with Alexander they took turns to tell stories of him, much to Alexander’s delight. The stories usually involved something embarrassing for Lysander which made him shake his head and wander off. When he’d gone, the hoplites told Alexander other stories of his bravery.

“Never tell him we’ve told you these stories, Alexander,” confided the one called Theokritus, winking. “We wouldn’t want him to get a big head. Then it would be too easy to target with an arrow.” The others laughed at this and Alexander joined them. He enjoyed their company. Xenophon provided the other break from the monotony. Alexander knew what animosity felt like, he had been aware of it from a young age when the bullying started. He had never felt such hatred as when Xenophon and his father’s paths crossed. The incident on the ship still threatened to boil over and Alexander knew there would be some kind of aftermath eventually. He could feel it building. No words passed between Xenophon and his father and Lysander never even looked Xenophon’s way, ignoring him. The same could not be said for Xenophon who glared at both Lysander and Alexander with open hostility. Alexander knew the look, he recognised the signs. He’d seen them directed at him often enough. Xenophon wore the same expression, the same look in his eyes. Alexander tried to talk to Lysander about it but he just brushed it off.

“He’s all piss and wind.”

Alexander noticed that the longer they spent in the company of the other hoplite, the more coarse his father’s language became.

“He’s just annoyed because I bested him. He’ll get over it when he’s got something better to worry about.”

Alexander wasn’t so sure.

Each day one of the enomotia had the duty of watching the Samians from the ridge and Lysander always took Alexander with him. They marched up the ridge to their position, his father marched everywhere these days, and settled in as the last darkness started to recede. His father had the first watch of the daylight so Alexander watched the first rays of sun breach the horizon over the foothills of the mountain that shielded the far side of the city. The sun was in their eyes as it fought its way into the sky, the shadows receded over them and melted away towards the siege wall. As the darkness faded, they noticed that the siege wall had been breached overnight and the Samians were swarming around.

“Should we go and make a report father?”

“We will shortly. I want to see what they are up to first.”

Lysander started muttering to himself and Alexander could tell that he was worried. They continued to watch as the time passed and the activity got more frenzied. Then the siege wall was breached in many places at once and his father head flicked from one place to the next, trying to take in this new information.

“That’s not good,” mumbled Lysander.


The Samian host were just visible as they formed up, streaming out of the holes they had made in the siege wall in full view of Lysander and Alexander on the ridge above. The Samian city could be seen in the distance behind the wall from their lofty position. It wasn’t a large city compared to Athens but there were still a lot of people behind the walls as the city sprawled across the port, the only population centre on the whole island. Lysander lay prone on the ridge squinting into the distance, but Alexander stood staring. The barren ridge they were on provided natural shelter to the city from the wind that whipped in off the sea during the winter. Not today though. The temperatures would be unbearable in a few hours in the dry dusty plain below once the summer sun was at its highest. The heat already burned Alexander’s nostrils as he breathed in the hot air.

“Get down Alexander. Not everyone has eyes as bad as mine,” Lysander‘s commanded.

Alexander laughed. “But not everyone has eyes as good as mine either, father.” Alexander didn’t picked up on his father’s distraction and still adored this game they were playing. The last few months had been the best of his life. He was excited by this break to the monotony.

“But with your stupid red head, even a blind crone would see you. Now get down.” Lysander frowned and his voice took on a harder edge.

Alexander flopped to the ground beside his father, taking no notice of the teasing. His father always made fun of him, so that when the bullies did it, it didn’t bother him. The one thing his father never called him was ‘savage’. Other than that, the bullies could say nothing that would hurt him.

As Alexander lay next to his father, staring at the Samians, he didn’t notice the dark, troubled look on Lysander’s face.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Lysander muttered

Alexander turned to look at him. “What’s that?”

“There’s trouble brewing and I don’t like it. We need to get you somewhere safe.”

“Is this one of those ‘show of force’ things that you told me about?”

Lysander paused before answering. “We’d expect them to give us a little trouble, to show they aren’t being subjugated by Athens. It’s a matter of honour. Sending out skirmishers to attack a small patrol or something like that. This looks different though. There’s too many of them. We need to report how many to Methiodos. How many do you think there are?”

The concentration screwed up Alexander’s face as he tried to estimate numbers. He pushed the flop of red hair back away from his eyes as he came to a conclusion and turned to his father, his red-brown hair flopped back over one eye as he shifted his weight. “How many do you think there are, father?”

Lysander growled. “A lot more than there are of us, don’t you think?”

Alexander nodded. “What do you think this means?” His face screwed up in a frown.

“It means something bad is brewing. Let’s go and give Methiodos our report.”

Alexander and Lysander crawled backwards and then, once they were behind the ridgeline, got to their feet. Lysander insisted on good soldiering habits even though Alexander had been stood in full view moments earlier. The Samians knew full well that the Athenians were watching them and were camped over the ridge, but Lysander liked to maintain discipline so that he didn’t become sloppy when it mattered. Methiodos insisted on proper discipline at all times and being a decadarchos meant his father always set a good example. The siege had been going on for a while now and everyone seemed to have settled into a routine until today. Alexander brushed sand off his father’s tunic and armour as they walked, a habit from his role for the last few months.

They made their way back down the dusty ridge to the camp. The camp of the Athenian taxis sprawled below them, arranged in identifiable sections of each enomotia. At this early hour, Alexander could see the rest of the camp stirring and starting to wake whereas Methiodos’ men were easy to spot, up and training early before the sun started to scorch the air. Some of the dimœrites allowed their men to take it easier when summer came, training less and without their armour, but Methiodos did not allow such frivolities. His enomotia woke earlier so that they could train in full armour and once done, they did their guard duties and the less taxing routines during the worst of the heat. How the men thanked him for that concession, thought Alexander. But he could tell from how the men talked that they respected Methiodos and he knew from the stories he heard from the other soldiers that Lysander and Methiodos knew each other well, having fought together in Thrace and other battles.

Alexander thought about how happy he was, trotting along beside his father’s long strides and didn’t notice Lysander’s silence or his troubled expression as they marched down the hill to the camp. They were sharing an adventure, sleeping out under the stars, enjoying the company of the rough men of the enomotia. They seemed to have adopted him and shared their own stories when his father left Alexander alone. He felt the happiest he had ever been, a world away from the name calling and bullying he had endured at home and he had now forgotten about his situation with his mother.

They made a short and pointed report to Methiodos who marched up the ridge to take a look for himself. Lysander went with him but instructed Alexander to stay where he was and wait for him. Alexander watched as they returned and went off to report to Nicanos. There was a short exchange and then Nicanos started issuing a string of orders. As Alexander watched, a wave of activity hit the camp, like a physical entity pushing outwards concentrically, with Nicanos at its centre. His father hurried away beckoning Alexander to follow, the enomotia were preparing to move. All the men were putting on full armour and tightening down straps on sandals. They strapped on their swords and practiced drawing them to make sure they didn’t snag in scabbards. No-one spoke. No-one asked Alexander for help today. They just got on with their preparations in silence, but did so in a controlled frenzy of activity. A charged atmosphere infused the camp that Alexander felt he could have touched. He turned from one place to the next, seeing each man transform into a battle-ready hoplite before his eyes.

Spears were hefted and then, on an order from Methiodos, they marched off. As they set off they were coming from different directions from where they were preparing, but in what looked almost accidental, they formed up as they marched and in a few steps they were in their full four columns of eight men. They marched through the camp with Alexander trailing behind bewildered by how quickly the army changed, from a camp going about it’s regular routine, to this army ready for battle. Alexander wondered about his father’s reaction to what they had seen earlier. It occurred to him that his father was worried and this response by Nicanos suggested he was right to be.

Alexander started to worry now, this didn’t seem like as much fun anymore and he could feel the tension in the air. Other than orders being issued, no-one spoke. The absence of the usual hubbub of conversation made the noise different somehow, more malevolent. For the first time since leaving home, he wished he wasn’t here. He followed at a jog behind the enomotia as they marched through the camp grinding his teeth together.

When they reached the bottom of the ridge on the extremity of the camp, each enomotia took up a position alongside the others. The air seemed to be heavy with expectation as they paused, the tension penetrated every pore as the fifteen-hundred men stood in formation, awaiting their next inevitable order. Lysander beckoned over Alexander and then beckoned over another hoplite.

“Keep him here, make sure he stays out of harms way,” said Lysander.

“I’m not a wet nurse, Lysander,” said the hoplite.

Lysander stepped in close to him. “You don’t have to do anything other than keep him here. That’s an order. I think it’s within your capability.”

The hoplite was about to reply but changed his mind.

“I don’t need someone to look after me,” said Alexander. “I can look after myself.”

“You’ll stay here and stay quiet. This isn’t the time to start arguing with me. Do as you’re told.”

His father returned to his position and the hoplite grabbed Alexander’s arm and led him to the back of the formation.

“Stay there. Don’t move.”

Alexander stood and watched as final preparations were made. A shouted command from Nicanos split the air, echoed by the dimœrites along the line and the main formation of one thousand men rippled forwards, the front rows seeming to drag the remainder behind them one row at a time as each row waited for the one in front to make space for them to march into. A gap opened as the front thousand hoplites were separated from the rearmost that were left behind as a reserve. Alexander watched as a thousand hoplites marched up the hill, kicking up a cloud of dust, so that the front ranks were soon lost in the cloud they made. He wondered how the soldiers at the rear could see where they were going and how they did not choke long before they reached any battle.

As the soldiers marched up the hill away from him he noticed that the men were dripping with sweat, rivulets running from their shoulders and foreheads as the heavy armour and the weight of the shield and spear they carried added to the heat of the day. The sun now blazed down at the hoplites and the temperature was still rising as heat reflected off the ground. Alexander lost sight of his father. He knew he was at the front, but studying from behind he couldn’t really tell so he focused on Nicanos who’s horsehair crest could be seen in the second row. Alexander watched the crest flick left and right as Nicanos barked out orders to the dimœrites. The first rows crested the rise and then started to disappear as they dipped below the rows behind them.

Alexander watched as the hoplites were lost to sight over the ridge.

“Can I go watch the battle?” he asked the hoplite as soon as the last man disappeared.

“Your father told me to keep an eye on you,” the reserve officer growled.

“I’ll stay in sight. Just let me go where I can see,” he pleaded.


“Please. I’ve never seen a battle. I might never get a chance. I’ll stay this side of the ridge, on that rock there. I know I can see from there because we were up there a few hours ago.”

“No, I’m not crossing your father, look what happened to Xenophon! If you leave my sight, you’ll wish you’d never been born.”

Alexander paused, torn. He didn’t want to cross the hoplite, who looked pretty fearsome, or to get him in trouble either. But he didn’t want to miss the start of the battle either, just the other side of the ridge with his father in the front line. He waited until another hoplite distracted his supervisor and then set off up the hill at a run.

The Phalanx

Alexander sprinted up the ridge, heedless of the shouted commands coming from the hoplite behind him. He might be young, but he was fit and covered the ground quickly and the chasing hoplite gave up after a few steps as Alexander knew he would. He heard snippets of curses as he ran, the usual punctuation about Thrace and his light complexion in some oft-heard abusive combination or other. He smiled and ran on, his dirty red mop of hair flopping in front of his blue eyes. The very hair and eye combination that prompted the hoplite’s taunts, the thing that set him apart from every other Athenian he’d ever met, and apart from every other Greek for that matter. The noise of the army ahead of him singing their war song as they marched pulled him onwards to where he could catch a glimpse of his father before the battle started. It wasn’t far from the ridge to the siege wall and he didn’t want to miss anything.

Alexander arrived at the top of the ridge where, from his elevated position he could see his father in the front row of the formation and the thousand men with him, marching down the other side. His young eyes were drinking in the view, nothing in his short life compared to the amazing sight of the army below him. He sat on a rock nearby where he and his father watched the Samian activity earlier. Alexander stared in fascination at the scene unfolding below him.

The heat of the mid-morning sun left the air breathless, and the plateau below shimmered with the heat haze. Alexander’s tunic stuck to him, slick sweat plastering the fine hair on his arms to his skin. He wondered how it must be for his father and the other men marching below him in full armour, carrying the weight of the shields and spears.

“Rather them than me,” he muttered under his breath.

Alexander thought the sight of the army in full battle formation was wonderful, and this was only a part of it. The hoplites all carried large oval shields called hoplons, which was where the hoplites got their name. This amused Alexander, he would have rather been named after a xiphos, the sword they carried, or maybe a doru after the spears they fought with, twice as long as a man. The hoplon was impressive though. Every man below him carried one on his left arm, huge shields that covered them from shoulder to knee when they were fighting, made of wood and reinforced with bronze. Some were bronze rimmed and were painted in bright colours, with family or city emblems on them. Others, like his fathers, were covered with bronze which were highly polished so they reflected the sunlight, the emblems hammered into them. Behind the shields the men wore armour of linen or leather called linothorax, some covered in bronze but most with bronze scales sewn into them. These were also polished before battle. By contrast the helmets of most of the hoplites were left tarnished and scarred. He could see the back of them now, but he thrilled at the thought of the image facing the Samians ahead of them, fierce eyes and snarling mouths below flaring nostrils, the only parts of the face visible between the cheek guards. The scars and stains on the helmets adding to the transformation of each man, from rough but amiable soldier into a fearsome, ferocious warrior.

He scanned the formation as he watched the march, trying to pick out the individuals he knew but the helmets prevented him from doing so. Most of the helmets were bare, but the officer’s helmets were decorated with horsehair crests on theirs and and painted in bright colours. Alexander looked down at the formation again, watching them march in time toward the siege wall and the enemy before it and his heart raced. He stood again, unable to keep still as he watched the thousand hoplites, spears aloft, iron tips polished and shining in the hot air above the formation.

The Athenians were singing loudly now, the sound of their war song reverberating through the valley, in time to the sound of the cadence of their marching, the noise making Alexander’s head spin. He sat down again, waiting for the moment that Nicanos would order the change in the phase of the attack. Singing was a feature of the first phase of the march towards the enemy and he revelled in the noise. A thousand male voices sang in harmony, and the song rising and falling, the singing deep, as he expected it to be from a thousand soldiers. When the song rose, he could feel it vibrate in his chest so that Alexander thought it might lift him off his feet. He wondered how the Samians must feel hearing all these Athenian men singing as one, the veterans of many battles, the leaders of the Delian League of Cities. Alexander hero-worshipped his father, he was invincible and by extension, he hero-worshipped the rest of this army.

The words of the song carried across to him and told the story of the forthcoming battle, how the Athenians would be victorious, their valour, and that they were all going to be heroes. Alexander felt the hairs stand up on his arms as they reached the bottom of the valley and thought again of the Samians facing the Athenian army. They weren’t warriors, these men from this small island. He expected the Samians to surrender, his opinions of them formed around the the fires and meals on the evenings in the camp, but he hoped they wouldn’t before he got to see the phalanx in full battle. He felt a moment of guilt at his wish for battle and then brushed it away. The danger for his father or the others didn’t occur to him, as these were farmers and scholars they were facing, he thought, indoctrinated by the bravado of the men below him from his time with them.

When all the Athenian hoplites had reached level ground, the phalanx tightened. The singing stopped abruptly and Alexander’s ears rang with the echo of the song. He wondered how they could have heard the command over the noise they were making, but now the silence deafened him. The formation stood motionless and he felt the intimidation level increase. Alexander could hear the blood pounding in his ears. A thousand spears bristled upwards as the army waited for the next order. He let out a breath, unaware that he had been holding it. He knew this would be the ephodos, where the phalanx, now in their tight formation start the march towards the opposing force. Each of the hundred hoplites in the front row moved as one and interlocked the shield on his left arm with the other men in the line. The second row of hoplites raised their shields over the heads of the front row and all the front three rows levelled their spears. The rows behind held their spears vertically, ready. He gasped, seeing hundreds of soldiers now aligned into their ten rows presenting an incredible shield wall bristling with spears was a wonder that he couldn’t have imagined. He could see his father’s enomotia in the centre of the phalanx now, with his father in the front row and Methiodos a few men farther to his left and his chest swelled with pride. These were his friends he thought.

A command from Nicanos bellowed out, repeated by the dimœrites and decadarchos along the lines, unnecessary in Alexander’s opinion as he could hear the syntagmatarchis commands from the ridge. The phalanx rippled forward like a huge hedgehog, bristling with lethal spikes. The Athenians started bellowing their war cry. “Elelelelef! Elelelelef!” Over and over, the sounds becoming a continuous cacophony of terrifying animalistic noise. Alexander tensed with excitement and joined the war cry, shouting at the top of his voice, the sound coming from deep within him. The phalanx marched forward in unison presenting an unassailable wall to the Samians, the rows behind the front three pushing forward with their shields to give the structure strength and momentum. The noise of the march could be heard from his position on the ridge above them and his heart pounded in his chest. He didn’t feel any danger, just the excitement, like watching the Panathenaic Games with his father, but tenfold more exciting. This was a much bigger scale and he was the only spectator. He fidgeted as he waited for the formation to change into a full-blown krousis, the final acceleration into a run over the last few step, as he knew it would. The Samians were waiting in front of the wall as the phalanx approached and a smile split Alexander’s face as he noted with glee that the Samians did not have a strong formation to meet the Athenians. They were formed in a long line a few men deep. It would not take long to put the Samians back behind the wall thought Alexander as the gap between the two armies narrowed. He could feel the ground vibrating with each synchronised step of the Athenian army and hear the cadence of the march forward. The dust clouds coming from the phalanx now mixing with the heat haze making the whole scene seem illusory.

The Samians continued to wait as the phalanx approached, and were in no hurry to come out to meet the Athenians. Alexander held his breath in anticipation of the crash of shields. He knew he shouldn’t look forward to it but he couldn’t help himself. People were going to die and he felt ashamed of himself when he realised with disappointment that this was not going to be the case here. The Samians wore light armour and the spears were short, not long like the ones protruding from the phalanx approaching them. Some did not even have spears.

Alexander waited for the Samians to break and run, but they continued to wait, not particularly still, but neither were they making any effort to protect themselves. As the Athenians continued to close on them he became confused. He tried to spot how they were going to fight against the approaching phalanx or whether they were about to surrender. The Athenian phalanx accelerated forward covering the short distance remaining until the two armies met and he couldn’t understand why the Samians still made no move to advance or retreat. He couldn’t see their faces from this distance, but they were not moving and didn’t look like they were doing anything.

When the Athenians came into range, a huge black cloud rose up from behind the siege wall, to the confusion of the watching Alexander. He struggled to process the scene unfolding before him. The Samians were moving now, the waiting over and commands from the Samian lines reached the ridge where he waited, the sound delayed by the distance. As he watched the Samians start to move, his mind caught up with the action unfolding before him. He returned his attention to the black cloud, which had now changed from an indistinct mass into thousands of arrows that climbed high into the blue sky, a faint hiss following them. They reached their zenith and then hovered suspended for a moment, caught above the phalanx. Alexander held his breath as he watched them riveted by the sight, the movements below forgotten. As if remembering their path, the arrows started on their new journey downward in a lethal rain. Alexander’s eyes widened and he sucked in a sharp breath. He clapped his hands to his face, riveted by the path of the arrows.

In a moment of sudden and terrible clarity, he realised the magnitude of what he had done by coming here. His mother was alone back in Agryl and, because she was a Thracian, her status as a citizen came from his father and him, and they were both here. If his father perished and he wasn’t there either, she would lose everything, her husband, her home and her means of support. He didn’t know where she would go, if he would ever find her again. He had to do something, his panicked thoughts tumbled through his mind. He couldn’t get home now until the next transport returned. He had to try and protect his father somehow instead. The twelve year old boy protecting the seasoned veteran. It sounded ridiculous to his own mind, but he reasoned that there must be something he could do to help, with the rain of death descending on the phalanx below. He would work it out as he went along. With the decision made, he set off down the ridge at a run towards the imminent battle below.

The Battle

As he ran, Alexander’s eyes followed the path that the arrows were taking, arcing downward in a dark rain of death toward the exposed phalanx below. He shouted and screamed at the top of his voice, the downward slope adding to his speed so he almost couldn’t keep up with his own momentum. His eyes flicked down to the phalanx to see the most wonderful sight. The phalanx that moments before seemed doomed to a terrible death transformed from a lopsided hedgehog into a turtle. The phalanx stopped moving and the shields that were locked at the front of the lines were joined by all of others, covering the phalanx in a hard shell. Alexander skidded to a stop at the bottom of the ridge to watch in dread fascination as the arrows continued their inexorable progress downwards, showering the phalanx and thudding into the shields. The arrows battered the shields with a noise like rolling thunder. Individual sounds were indiscernible as the multitude of arrows rattled against the metal of the shields. The noise overwhelmed Alexander, making his head vibrate and it went on and on. There were some casualties as he saw a few shields disappear underneath the turtle, but not many. The shields were quickly replaced and the turtle structure secured again. The interlocking shields were protecting all but the unluckiest men. After a few minutes that seemed like hours, Alexander watched the last of the arrows thump into the shields and clapped his hands. Time stopped and the phalanx seemed to wait patiently underneath the thick layer of arrows that covered it. Then with a deafening clatter the shields were drawn back away, shaking loose the layer of broken arrow shafts as the men emerged from underneath the protective shell.

After the horror of the arrows storm followed by the elation of the survival, the extremes of emotion caused Alexander to struggle to catch up with the momentum of the battle. The men of the phalanx were blinded by the bright sunlight after emerging from underneath the shield wall. Some of the hoplites, Alexander saw, jammed the base of their spear into the ground, drew their sword and swept through the arrows to sever them where they were embedded into their shields.

Alexander watched confused as he noticed that the Samians were not where they were moments before. During the momentary hiatus in the battle they had changed position, unnoticed and with surprising speed while the phalanx was under cover. They were now surrounding the Athenians in a wide arc, their short spears held almost behind them.

As the phalanx reset itself to continue it’s advance, the formation became biased to the front again. Alexander wondered why they were attacking an enemy that weren’t in the place where they were heading. Then he realised. In his position at the bottom of the slope, he was still higher than the phalanx and he had a better view. Because they didn’t have the benefit of his lofty position, they were yet to realise that the Samians were in a new position and so they didn’t recognise the danger. They were still pushing towards the Samians in front of them, unaware of the ones on their flanks. Alexander started to run forwards again, shouting and hollering at the top of his voice, but no-one paid him any attention.

He watched the short spears released at the phalanx from all sides and recoiled in shock. The men were still adjusting to the sunlight in their front biased formation and hadn’t recognised the danger. Greeks always fought with spears of some kind or with swords. It was the Romans way off to the north who fought with javelins as he’d heard the men describe the lighter weight spears. Men along the outside rows of the phalanx were felled before their shields were turned towards this new unexpected threat. The strength of the phalanx was in the interlocking of the shields in the front of the line, but now men were trying to protect their exposed sides and rear. They desperately tried to fill the holes in the shield wall caused by the men that had fallen and the phalanx descended into confusion with gaps continuously appearing as men either fell or changed position. The sudden change in the battle had caught the men of the phalanx unawares and unprepared.

The Samians had followed behind their javelins with drawn swords and were attacking the Athenians from all sides, forcing their way in beyond the spears hacking at the men and slashing at their exposed sides and necks. The Athenians fought to defend themselves with their large aspis shields as they struggled to manoeuvre themselves to face the threat, positioned as they were to attack to the front. The men on the edges that were under attack were unable to create space for themselves due to the press from behind, rendering their long spears useless in the close quarters. Men’s screams filled the air as the battle descended into chaos. The men of the phalanx fought furiously to defend themselves against the frenzied Samian attack, but they were losing men rapidly. Spears were dropped as the Athenians grabbed at their short swords to meet the unexpected threat. The xiphos, the Athenian short swords, were designed for close quarter battle, one on one, they were ill-fitted for the formation battle they were in now and many Athenians were falling.

The clash of steel swords on iron did nothing to drown out the screams of the injured. Alexander struggled to comprehend the carnage below. He expected a classic phalanx battle and hadn’t prepared himself for the realities of war as the men hadn’t mentioned it. The brutality of the battle, severed limbs and piercing screams assailed his every sense and the smell of death assaulted him. Death smelled of metal, sweat and shit. He didn’t think he would ever get the smell out of his mind. He tore his eyes away from the general destruction of the phalanx and searched for his father in the melee. He spotted a small knot of men driving outwards in a wedge from the phalanx into the Samians, cutting and stabbing their way into the Samian formation with their xiphos, soldier fighting soldier now, instead of formation fighting formation. The Samians were only a few men deep there, spread as they were all the way around the phalanx, and the wedge of men soon breached the thin line. As they reformed and more joined them, Alexander first spotted Nicanos and then his father with Methiodos among the small knot of men.

The men in the centre of the phalanx had turned and were trying to retreat, forcing others in the rear to turn also. As the mass of the phalanx retreated they headed towards Alexander who rushed to meet them. The Samians hadn’t cut off them off and the mass of men started to make progress. Alexander heard a rumble behind him and turned to see the reserve hurrying down from the ridge to help the main force in the valley. He turned back to the fight below to see the small knot that included his father clearing a space around themselves. The phalanx started to elongate where the retreating men at the rear had started to move in one direction while the men at the front were facing the other. As the pressure on each row reduced, they turned and started to move back towards the ridge creating a ripple effect to the watching Alexander, like a caterpillar.

The reserves were now upon and flowing around his position at the bottom of the ridge and blocking his view of the fighting below. He was caught up in a swirling whirlwind of bodies rushing past, arms, legs, spears and shield were all he saw passing before him. He tried to maintain his view of the battlefield, dodging and weaving around as the men passing through jostled him. He jumped up and down between them unaware that the progress of the reserves carried him forward. The men paid no attention to him in their hurry to reach their beleaguered comrades.

In his glimpses between the marching men around him, it was clear that the main phalanx now had a clear line to the approaching reserves but that the knot of men fighting together at the front were getting more and more separated from the main body of the army as the fragmented front row fell back in retreat. As the two main Athenian forces joined up, the reserves flowed around to protect the men who had been fighting and formed a shield wall around their perimeter. This created a brief lull in the fighting as the Samians drew back towards the siege wall but as Alexander saw, this meant more men flowing towards the small group that had been left behind. As the Athenians reformed, no-one had noticed the men behind them. The lochagos in charge of the reserve gave out orders for the final retreat. Alexander fought his way over to him and tried to grab his attention. The lochagos ignored him, trying to get the men organised but Alexander dragged on his arm pulling at him with everything he had.

“Where did you come from boy? I thought you were told you to stay on the ridge,” the lochagos growled.

“My father is still out there. You have got to go and get him”

“Look boy, I don’t have time for this,” the lochagos grunted. “I can’t rescue everybody, I’ve got the whole army to get back to safety now. If you’ve any sense you’ll stay in the centre and come with us back to safety. I can’t help your father now.”

The lochagos shrugged off Alexander’s arm and went back to giving orders, the instructions flowing from him in a continuous stream. Soldiers rushed from him to respond, filling gaps in the line, relaying instructions and rushing around, the whole army starting to shift back towards the ridge as he did so. Alexander was frantic as he tried to work out a way to help his father. He had just decided to make a run for it in the hope that some soldiers would follow him, when a dimœrites rushed up to the lochagos.

“Sir, I can’t find the Syntagmatarchis”

The lochagos paused from issuing orders and frowned at the dimœrites. His face was hard as stone, but calculations of his next steps could be seen flashing through it as he weighed and discarded options.

“I know where he is,” shouted Alexander.

The dimœrites and lochagos spun towards him, the latter snatching him from his feet by the tunic and whipping him into the air so that they were face to face.

“Where?” The single word was an urgent question and an undeniable command. Alexander’s trembling hand pointed to the small knot of men containing his father and Nicanos, separated from the rest and now overwhelmed by Samians. The lochagos wasted no time. He dropped Alexander to the ground and charged through the retreating phalanx towards the Samians. He and the dimœrites shouted instructions as they went, other soldiers hustling to catch up. Alexander scrambled after them and tried to keep up, swept along yet again by the men around him whose number increased the nearer they got to the rearguard, until they were three dozen strong by the time they burst out of the back of the retreating army.

The situation was desperate for Lysander and the others and the rescue party started to shout and scream their battle cry as they charged across the gap between the two armies. “Elelelelef! Elelelef!” The tactic worked as the Samians turned to the new threat, their momentary distraction sufficient for the stranded team to start to fight their way towards them. As they did so, space cleared around them, the Samians trying to organise themselves to the threat from front and back.

The rescuers plunged into the Samian line driving a wedge through to their comrades. Once they had broken through, Alexander could see his father. Nicanos turned to face their rescuers and in his distraction, he left himself open to a Samian attacker who lunged at the Athenian Syntagmatarchis. With lightning reactions, Lysander drove himself at the attacker, knocking him off course and sending him tumbling to the ground. Time slowed down and Alexander watched Lysander bounce off the Samian and stumble. Just when he seemed about to bring himself under control, he jarred against another Athenian from behind. Alexander recognised the heavy form of Xenophon at the same moment as the hoplite spun around and smashed his shield into Lysander, driving him away and towards the Samians. Before Lysander could recover his own balance, one of the Samians raced forward into the attack and using his javelin like a spear ran Lysander through from behind, the point bursting from the front of his armour as Alexander watched in horror.


Alexander didn’t consider that his father might need help. If he had done, his first thought would have been to go to him, but he didn’t. Instead, his first reaction was a white hot rage that someone had attacked his father from behind. He raced through the throng at a full run, his size allowing him to snake between friend and foe alike and he covered the short distance quickly. As he ran, he snatched a sword from the hand of a dead Samian, not thinking what a twelve year old boy would do with it.

The Samian was just pulling the javelin from Lysander when he saw Alexander streaking towards him. The initial shock turned to amusement as he saw a small red haired boy rushing towards him. He didn’t spot the sword in Alexander’s hand until it was too late and it was the last thing he saw as he died, with the half smile on his face, as Alexander kept up his run and thrust the sword at him. Being small and thrusting upwards meant the sword missed all the Samian’s armour including his chin guard and found the unprotected soft flesh at the top of his throat. Armour wasn’t designed to protect from a half sized boy running at full speed and the point of the sword entered under his chin and passed through his brain before exiting through the top of his head, the sword buried to the hilt with the momentum of Alexander’s run and the point grotesquely pushing up his helmet to teeter on top of it.

Alexander collapsed to his knees, pulling the sword with him. The Samian stayed upright for a moment, seeming to stand over Alexander trying to decided whether to die or not, before a gush of blood exploded from the Samian’s mouth and the wound and flooded down to cover Alexander as he knelt in a circle of sand, dyed red with blood and gore. The lifeless Samian collapsed onto Alexander, trapping him and covering him in more blood. Alexander pushed against the body and the slickness of the gore covering him allowed him to slip out from beneath it. All the Athenians had now reached the stranded men and formed a perimeter circle, shields, sword and spears pointed outwards to deter the Samians who were still reeling from the shock of the attack. Alexander now stood and was kicking at the dead Samian soldier, stamping on his chest and stomach. He realised he still had the sword in his hand and swung it above his head to hack at the body. He was frenzied and didn’t know what he was doing. All he knew was that this soldier had killed his father. As he raised the sword up, a hand gripped his arm. Methiodos waited until Alexander’s resistance left him and then took the sword from him, dropping it into the sand. He grabbed Alexander by the tunic and dragged him away.

“Wait.” Alexander kicked and squirmed in Methiodos’ grip. “Father!” His shout sounded weak but he was so close they couldn’t leave him behind now.

Methiodos whipped him around so he could see his face and look him in the eye.

“Your father is dead. Now we need to move or we will all join him.” Methiodos kept hold of Alexander and the rescue party moved off without delay, driving the Samians before them. The remainder of the phalanx and the reserve had halted their retreat and were waiting at the bottom of the ridge. With both their commanders gone, the remaining dimœrites had stopped and held firm awaiting to see what happened, none of the dimœrites willing to give the order to move in either direction. The miniature phalanx met scant resistance as it fought its way back, the Samians were skirmishing or throwing javelins as they retreated.

The remainder of the march went by in a blur for Alexander. He walked half-backward the whole time, part dragged by Methiodos, but watching the spot where his father was as much as he could. By the time they rejoined the main body of the army, he could no longer see him, but he stared at the jumble of bodies anyway. They had lost more men in the retreat, harried by the Samians with javelins the whole way back. The remains of the Athenian siege army made its way up the ridge and back down the other side. The Samians drove them back but then stopped at the top of the ridge and allowed the Athenians to return down the other side unmolested. They could be seen now setting up sentry outposts all along the ridgeline. A disconnected part of Alexander’s mind noted that they were well organised and efficient and seemed to know what they needed to do to encircle the Athenians who could do nothing to stop them, beaten and exhausted as they were, but he connected with brief, fleeting glimpses of it. The rest of the time, his fuddled mind flitted from one thought to the next, snatches of the battle interspersed with flashes of memories of his time at Agryl with his father.

Methiodos half-carried Alexander all the way back and he collapsed in a heap at the camp once Methiodos let go of his tunic. He sat in the sand, legs out in front of him and his head bowed, staring at the blood on his hands, arms, legs and tunic. He could feel the stiffness on his face and in his hair where the blood had dried and caked. His tears streaked his face further, mixing with the blood and he watched them splash pink onto the sand. He tried to contemplate what had just happened but whenever he tried to think about it, he was overwhelmed and broke down into wracking sobs, his shoulders heaving, his lungs fighting for great gulps of air as he fought the grief that was a crushing weight on his chest.

He did not know how long he had sat there, time did not matter much to him now, he had lost his father, his hero, and things would never be the same again. The whole world had changed in the short time from he and his father on the ridge to now. Everything was different, off kilter. Colours had faded, sound had dulled. Hoplites he did not know would pass, tapping him on the shoulder and mumbling words of sympathy, but he never looked up. The camp around him had started to come back to life after the shocked lull of the defeat, but the activity flowed around him unnoticed.

A shape cast him into shadow and didn’t move. He waited for whoever it was to pass, but the shadow stayed over him and so at length he looked up. Looking down at him was Methiodos. Once Alexander looked up and made eye contact, Methiodos squatted down in front of him.

“Nicanos wants to see you,” he said.

“I don’t care,” Alexanders voice was dead, defeated. There was no emotion in it.

“I know you’re hurt and grieving, but if the Syntagmatarchis wants to see you, you come,” Methiodos said, not unkindly.

“My father is dead. What do I care what Nicanos wants.”

“Your father was a soldier. A good one and a loyal one. He would have wanted you to follow orders and if his Syntagmatarchis asked you to attend him, he would expect you to do it, no matter what the circumstances.” Methiodos spoke to him in a kind but firm voice.

Alexander stared for a moment, considering a response, but failed to come up with one, so he dragged himself to his feet.

“We can’t take you to Nicanos looking like that. Come with me.”

After a pause, Methiodos turned and led him to the beach where he made Alexander strip off his tunic and wash in the sea. Alexander just followed instructions, no resistance left in him. He was in a stupor, and didn’t bother to ask where the fresh tunic had come from. He didn’t care. When he was clean and dressed again, Methiodos led him to the command tent in the centre of the camp, slowing his pace so that Alexander could keep up while he dragged his feet and walked with his head bowed.

Nicanos was giving orders and despatching messengers when they arrived so Methiodos put his hand on Alexander’s shoulder and they waited at the periphery of the tent, just inside the shade. Alexander just stood, staring forward, seeing nothing. When Nicanos noticed them he beckoned them over.

“I’m sorry about your father.” It seemed he wasn’t one to tiptoe around issues. “He was a good man and he saved my life. His courage and commitment helped save all the lives of those of us who became stranded.” Nicanos’ deep voice penetrated Alexander’s torpor but had lost the hard edge that he had heard before. His face looked older and he looked tired. At least he’s alive, Alexander thought, not like my father. It’s better to be tired than dead.

“You also showed great courage, just like your father. For a child to throw themselves into battle and slay their father’s killer is no small feat. He would be very proud of what you did. I know it doesn’t bring him back, but you can look back one day and know that the last thing your father saw before he died was your bravery and courage.”

“It wasn’t bravery,” Alexander shouted. “I was scared for my father and I didn’t think about what I was doing. I am still scared now and don’t know what I’m going to do.” Alexander fought back the tears as he spoke, trying not to show Nicanos or any of the others his emotions.

Nicanos’ face softened. “Bravery isn’t the absence of fear. Bravery is about being scared of something and then doing it anyway. You were brave in the field and you must be brave now. As for what you’ll do, we don’t need to decide that now. We aren’t going anywhere for a while, the Samians have us stockaded and we must wait.” He paused while he watched Alexander’s face. “Alexander, enomotia means ‘sworn band’. They’re not called that because they are sworn to the army, it’s because they’re sworn to each other. You’re your father’s son. That makes you part of his enomotia by extension, so you’ll stay with them and they’ll look after you until we know what comes next for all of us. You’ll take your father’s place.”

“Congratulations Alexander, you’re now in the army,” Methiodos said.


Alexander couldn’t move. He was stood in the middle of the battlefield with the battle raging on around him. He could hear the noise of the battle, the clash of sword on shield, the shouts of the hoplites and the screams of injured men. He breathed in and his nostrils filled with the smell of the battlefield. It was a foul smell of blood and shit, but it was familiar and he didn’t know why. Alexander turned to look around and spotted his father. Lysander just stood, looking at Alexander and smiling. He was bigger than everyone around him and the colours of his armour were brighter. Alexander noticed he wasn’t wearing the fearsome helmet that all the hoplites wore. That he normally wore.

Alexander tried to go to his father, but he couldn’t make his legs move. He wanted to warn him, but he didn’t know what he was warning him about. It was something important. He shouted, but no noise came from his lips, and he tried harder and harder until he was screaming silently.

Lysander started to speak but instead of words, black blood started to spill from his mouth. It started as a dribble, but then got faster and faster until it was pouring from him. He looked down at the huge spear point protruding from the front of his chest. Where had his armour gone? thought Alexander, but was distracted as he focused on the point of the spear. It was bright red with blood and a piece of his father’s flesh hung from the end. Alexander wanted to vomit, but then Lysander fell forwards. Stood behind him, laughing, was Xenophon, still holding the spear. Alexander stared at Xenophon open-mouthed and wanted to run at him, to kill him, but Lysander was holding Alexander by the shoulder, stopping him, shaking him.

“Alexander….Alexander…” Lysander said.

Alexander thrashed his head back and forth and tried to push Lysander’s hand from his shoulder, but it was in a vice grip and the shaking only increased in force.

“Alexander, wake up.”

Alexander opened his eyes and saw Methiodos looking down at him.

“Alexander, you were dreaming,” Methiodos said.

Alexander stared back at him with wild eyes and then relief flooded through him. It was just a dream. A horrible nightmare where his father was killed. The thought jarred him and then grief overwhelmed him again. It was a dream, but he was reliving reality. His father was dead. He tried to fight the realisation but the memory of yesterday’s battle forced itself forward into his consciousness. He screwed his eyes shut and turned away from Methiodos, but the big dimœrites was insistent.

Alexander dragged himself upright and looked at Methiodos from eyes ringed with dark smudges and surrounded by sallow skin, the effect ageing his young face. Methiodos put Alexander straight to work. There were many hoplites wounded in his enomotia and Alexander had to help them dress their wounds and to carry out any duties that they couldn’t do. There was no respite as he went from man to man fetching and carrying, dressing and repairing. The moment he had finished helping one, another was waiting for him. The night quickly came and when Methiodos appeared and ordered him to rest, he collapsed in the sand where he was and fell straight into an exhausted sleep. It wasn’t a restful sleep, he twisted and turned fitfully, nightmares troubling him again and he shouted himself awake, sweat covering him and the image of Xenophon laughing at him still playing out in front of his eyes.

He had woken early, so there were few in the camp that witnessed his distress. Those that did carefully avoided making eye contact with him, uncomfortable with his grief. He had once asked his father how soldiers dealt with all the death and, in a candid moment, his father told him that soldiers were used to death and refused to confront the aftermath of it, always looking to the future so they had no time to consider their own mortality or to ponder their own fate. Alexander knew that the holiness round him avoided contact as a defence mechanism. He didn’t care. He didn’t want, or need, their comfort and sympathy because it wouldn’t bring Lysander back. He was happy for them to leave him alone. He knew that having someone in the camp breaking their code of ignorance was troubling for the soldiers but, again, Alexander didn’t care.

The morning was the same as the previous afternoon as the camp continued it’s work to shore up the defences under constant observation by the Samians from the ridge above. They were exposed and surrounded and could retreat no further. The Samians held the high ground to the front on the ridge and the sea was at their back. Any scouts that were sent out were caught and killed by the Samians so Nicanos stopped trying, concentrating his efforts on defending their position if the Samians should press their attack, but they seemed to have no inclination to do so.

Alexander registered these things but took no interest. His father was dead and everything else seemed irrelevant. The realisation hit him anew each morning, but his work continued apace. As the days went on he was sure that the men were finding him work to do. They were in a better position to do it themselves but they weren’t letting on. Each day, he barely had time to eat and collapsed down into the sand to sleep in utter exhaustion when the evening came. He realised that in carrying out non-stop work he had less time to think about what had happened to his father and it started to become clear that this was Methiodos’ intention.

After a few days of the same routine, he ate his afternoon meal a short distance away from the rest of the hoplites, chewing on the indeterminate meat when his mind suddenly started to work again. He preferred his own company and, while he ate, he pondered what Methiodos was doing to distract him and decided he didn’t mind. To his surprise, he realised that his grief for his father felt separate to him, as if he was outside himself. He was going through his duties as one person and at the same time a part of his mind was deeply sad and upset about his father.

Alexander started to feel that he could function again and maybe even talk to the other hoplites, when the hoplite called Theokritus came over and sat down nearby, removing the option. Alexander waited for him to say something sympathetic and was ready to snap at him. He was angry and this Theokritus would find that out soon enough, but Theokritus said nothing. He just sat and ate his food, not even looking at Alexander. Alexander clenched his fists and felt his blood throbbing in his temple.

“Well, what do you want?” he snapped.

Theokritus raised his eyes from his food. “Me?”

“Yes, you,” spat Alexander. “Go on, tell me what you think I want to hear.”

“Not me,” said Theokritus. “Just sat here eating my meal.”

Alexander knew he was lying. “You’re here to comfort me in some way aren’t you?” he said in an accusing tone.

“Nope,” replied Theokritus. He’d returned back to eating his meal, ignoring Alexander.

“I don’t believe you. You want to tell me that that there was nothing I could have done. That my father would have died whether I’d been there or not and I couldn’t have stopped him doing what he did. That it isn’t my fault,” Alexander said in a mocking tone.

“Is it?” Theokritus replied without looking up.

“Is it what?”

“Is it your fault?”

Alexander was taken aback. The question had stumped him. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. “I should have done something,” Alexander replied, almost to himself. “I should have begged him not to go. I should have stopped him.”

“So why didn’t you? He would have listened to you.” Theokritus still wasn’t looking at him although he had now finished eating. He was staring off into the distance, over the sea.

“It wouldn’t have made a difference. He was a soldier. He wouldn’t have listened to me,” Alexander challenged back.

“Ah,” was all the reply he got.

Alexander thought it was a disagreement. “He would have gone anyway. He would have told me not to worry and that it would all be alright. But he was wrong.”

“Yes he was. How do you know he wouldn’t have stayed back?”

“Because he’s not a coward and I’m only a child. I’m twelve years old. But maybe it was my fault, I shouldn’t have come, he was thinking of me instead of fighting.” His voice was rising again.

“Hmmm. Maybe.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be helping?” Alexander’s voice was at the point of breaking, full of emotion.

“Not my job,” was the reply. “You’re the one who thinks he could have stopped a veteran solider from fighting. That at twelve years old you could have distracted one of the best hoplites in the taxis from a horde of Samians in front of him just by being on the same island. That, somehow, driving at the Samian line instead of retreating was connected to you being here.”

“That isn’t what I meant,” spat Alexander.

“So what did you mean?” Theokritus had stopped staring out to sea and had now fixed Alexander with a piercing stare.

“I meant maybe I could have protected him, stopped the Samian from killing him.”

“Yes, perhaps you should have done more. They were only Samians after all. You could probably have stopped them.”

“They were still soldiers!” he shouted. “I couldn’t fight them.”

“So why are you blaming yourself?” Theokritus demanded.

“Because of Xenophon.”

Theokritus raised his eyebrows at that. “What does he have to do with anything?”

“Because my father knocked Xenophon out on the ship. He embarrassed him and I’ve seen how Xenophon looks at him ever since, waiting to get even with him.”

“Xenophon isn’t the friendliest of people at the best of times. He and Lysander may not have liked each other but these things happen. I doubt it’s part of some ongoing feud.”

“I know the looks. I’ve been bullied all my life. I know what he was thinking, it was only a matter of time before something happened. Xenophon killed my father.”

Theokritus paused to take a breath. “The Samians killed your father. I was there. You can’t go around accusing Xenophon. That will get you into deep trouble.”

“I was there too. Did you see him fall against Xenophon?”

“It was an accident. They bumped into each other and your father unbalanced.”

“That’s not true. I was looking right at Xenophon. He saw it was my father and pushed him towards the Samians on purpose. He’s responsible.”

Theokritus paused again. “You need to put that out of your mind, Alexander. Your father’s dead. Xenophon is not responsible and neither are you.”

“It’s because of me that Xenophon and my father fought and that’s what led to what happened. If I hadn’t been here my father wouldn’t be dead.”

Alexander stared at Theokritus for a moment, defiant but with tears sparkling in his eyes reflecting the bright sunlight, then dropped his head. In a small voice he said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to think or do.”

“Do you want to know what I think?” Theokritus asked.

“I suppose so.”

Theokritus smiled. “I think you’re blaming yourself for what happened because it’s the only way you can make sense of it, by putting yourself in the scene. But, this was an act of the gods. You had no part to play. We can’t make sense of it. We aren’t supposed to. Soldiers learn to accept it. They have to. What do you do now? You carry on the best you can. That’s all you can do.”

Theokritus studied him while Alexander tried to make sense of their discussion. After a moment, he grunted and left Alexander to his internal turmoil. Theokritus seemed to think that it was resolved, thought Alexander. As if he could forgive the death of his father that quickly. But Alexander wasn’t a soldier. He had been blaming himself and the conversation with Theokritus had helped. He shouldn’t be blaming himself. It was Xenophon. He was responsible.


Alexander spent the night wrestling with how he would deal with Xenophon. As the night wore on, his ideas got more elaborate and unrealistic. He eventually fell asleep and slept better than he had since his father died. When he woke the next morning, it was with new resolve. He had a purpose. He would make Xenophon pay for what he had done, he just didn’t know how yet. He lay with his hands behind his head looking up at the lightening sky when Methiodos roused him early and took him to Nicanos.

“I have a task for you. It’s dangerous, but I believe it’s less dangerous for you than it will be for anyone else.” Nicanos wasn’t talking like the kind friend of his father anymore. It seemed to Alexander that these soldiers moved on very quickly when something bad had happened.

“Sir?” His time of chatting to the likes of Methiodos came to an end as soon as his duties started. He’d made the mistake the previous day of forgetting the ‘sir’ when being given instructions. He had been given short shrift and a stern lecture by Methiodos who explained in very blunt terms how to respond to a senior soldier. His life had now changed and he wouldn’t forget the sharp lesson.

Nicanos’ instructions were matter of fact, without emotion. “I’m sending you up the hill to the Samians under a flag of truce. You are to negotiate for us to collect our dead from the battlefield. I’m hoping that because you’re still a child, they may not kill you when they see you approach.”

Alexander stared at Nicanos wide eyed, but held his tongue. Was he being sent to his death?

“You’ll leave immediately,” Nicanos continued. “Methiodos will escort you to our boundary and brief you on the way.”

Nicanos didn’t wait for a response, he turned away and disappeared into his tent.

Methiodos turned and marched away. Alexander broke himself out of his stupor and hurried to catch up, falling into a fast clumsy march beside him.

“What do I say to them – if they don’t kill me?” he sputtered, forgetting the ‘sir’ again in his confusion.

“Who are you talking to?” Methiodos responded.

“Sorry. Sir?” corrected Alexander.

“Tell them that our Syntagmatarchis requests that we are allowed passage to collect our dead from the battlefield. See what they say and then react accordingly. Don’t come back without the permission of a senior officer. We don’t want to be going over there on some soldier’s say so to find they weren’t expecting us and treat it like an attack,” Methiodos said. He sounded impatient.

“I’ll do my best,” replied Alexander.

“You’ll do better than that, son.” The ‘son’ wasn’t used as a term of endearment, more as a younger subordinate. He used the same term to other young hoplites. “Your Syntagmatarchis doesn’t care what your best is. If he tells you to do something you do it. He told you to negotiate for it, which for you means don’t come back until you’ve managed it.”

Alexander stared at him trying to think of a response.

“And remember,” Methiodos’ voice softened. “Your father’s body is still on that field.”

They arrived at the boundary of the camp as they talked and with a nod from Methiodos, a soldier on picket thrust a makeshift white flag into Alexander’s hand. Yet again, events seemed to be rushing ahead and dragging him with them and he struggled to keep pace, his head spinning. He expected time to prepare, even after he’d been given the order, but he’d been marched straight here.

“Off you go then,” Methiodos said and gave him a gentle shove on the shoulder.

Alexander looked back at Methiodos, still expecting some instruction or maybe even an escort, but Methiodos looked away and started speaking to the sentry. Alexander picked his way up the ridge to where the sentries were picketed. When he was a quarter of the way up, the Samian sentries spotted him and more appeared as they became more alert, their heads standing out against the pink dawn light. He continued his slow progress upwards, his bowels turning to water as he watched for any movement that would signal a javelin or arrow being released at him. He had never been as scared in his life and his muscles felt like jelly as he climbed the slope, the climb seeming to take an eternity.


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Hoplite: Olympian Book 1

Athens 440BC Alexander decided that there was no-one around and started to move from under the ramp but, before he could make his escape, he felt the ship rock as a loud tramping came from the gangplank. He froze in position while he tried to work out what this new sound meant. After listening for a short time, he realised that the troops were boarding the ship. He needed to get away, so he dragged himself fully out from his hiding place and made his way to the ramp. Maybe he could just run past them all before they realised he was there. Then, to his horror, the ramp down into the hold started shaking and the tramping came closer as the soldiers started coming down it into the hold to shelter from the sun. He was trapped! All Alexander wants to be is an Olympian. But, when his hoplite father is recalled to war, Alexander tries to follow and becomes trapped aboard a troop ship. His life spins out of control when they make port. The seemingly benign state of Samos overthrows the mighty Athenian army and tragedy strikes. He soon realises that the foes in his own camp are more dangerous than the Samian rebels. When one of his only friends and allies on the island goes missing, Alexander has to further endanger his own life to try and find him but by doing so he puts his friend's life, and his mother back in Athens, in danger.

  • Author: Lee Ness
  • Published: 2016-06-17 19:20:11
  • Words: 92085
Hoplite: Olympian Book 1 Hoplite: Olympian Book 1