-This historical fanfiction draws heavily from Thucydides-
SPARTA FEARS WAR IS COMING WITH ATHENS, THE ONLY CITY-STATE THAT CAN CHALLENGE SPARTAN SUPREMACY OVER GREECE
WITH GROWING ALARM THEY HAVE WATCHED ATHENS EXPAND FROM A SMALL CITY TO A SEA EMPIRE THAT RULES THE ENTIRE AEGEAN
IN THE FALL OF 431 BC THEY SUMMON A MEETING OF THE FREE GREEKS TO DISCUSS WAR. THE CITY-STATE OF CORINTH, MOST POWERFUL OF SPARTAN ALLIES, SPEAKS FIRST.
Pausus, the emissary from Corinth, steps before the gathered crowd of men and begins to speak.
"This is your fault, Spartans. Time and time again we have raised our voice to warn you about Athens and her growing power, and time and time again our messages went unheeded, dismissed as the jealousies attendant to private ambition. Now that distrust of your allies has borne rotten fruit. The current crisis is your fault, Sparta; I say yours, because it was you that first gave Athens notion of her privilege and power."
There was some muttering in the room, but the emissary continued without hesitation.
"After the Median war, you Spartans wisely asked all of Greece to leave their towns unwalled; this so that in the event of another invasion, the Medes would not have any fortified position from which to oppress the country. Yet when Athens was told of this sensible precaution, did she take heed? No, not for a moment. With cunning she played tricks on your messengers, delaying and deceiving, and Pericles was chief architect. At last, in your own hall, before your own king, did he defy Spartan authority - and Sparta's response? You did nothing, and allowed Athens to raise her long walls all the way to Pireaus, fortified on either side; so that now she is the strongest city in Greece."
There was again muttering, and a few voices raised from the peers along the back wall; the emissary raised his hand and they fell silent.
"Brothers we are to you, Spartans, so do not take our words as accusation! No disrespect is intended, only the guiding criticism of fellowship. Your faith in your institutions and your philosophy - well-founded though it may be - has made you skeptical of viewpoints not your own, and dismissive of the fears of your smaller friends. For good reason is Laconian pride famous! Yet may we say, with all deference, pride in Sparta has left you somewhat ignorant of the larger world beyond. We who see both sides, Attic and Peloponnese, are able to form a better view of your character than you yourselves.
"Spartans, we do not think you realize just how different, how completely unlike yourselves the Athenians are. They are a foe more dangerous than any you have faced, and through our inaction they grow more dangerous each day.
You have a genius for keeping what you have got, Spartans; but Athens has a genius for gaining more. You are never far from your homes; they are never in them, always on the hunt for opportunity. You are armed by tradition; they, by innovation. Where you see possible failures in an enterprise, they see only success, and consider a failed attempt better than a risk avoided. More than any city in Hellas the Athenians can turn a hope imagined into a thing accomplished. Your courage has given you the blessings of peace, and the fertility of Sparta is equal to the valor of her people; but Athenian daring has brought them vast wealth, which makes war, like all things, run smoothly.
They are industrious and strive for excellence in all matters, never satisfied with an achievement but immediately seeking to outdo it. In the science of sailing they have no equal. Their days are not spent in idleness but rather the pursuit of perfection, in all aspects of their lives. In short we may say that they are possessed of endless energy, born to take no rest themselves and give none to others.
Such is Athens, your opponent."
The Corinthian paused for a moment, looking at each of the peers gathered, gauging their expressions. He had spoken severely, against their custom; but he judged the Spartans would respect a direct approach over long flowery praises.
The Spartan elders, men representing the most powerful and respected families in all of Sparta, were difficult to read. Spartans took pride in maintaining a passive countenance even amongst themselves; and now, with all the free cities of Greece in their presence, they were inscrutable. The younger men, however, fresh from the agoge and impatient to prove their worth, murmured and frowned at the words of Pausus.
"Now at last we are gathered, allies of the Peloponnese, and though the hour is indeed late, still it's true that late is better than never."
They called him Helmet-head.
He was tall, even for an Ionian, and powerfully built. His hair was the shade of autumn and his eyes sea grey. All agreed his face was beautiful, marred only by a strange shape to the top of his head that resembled the Corinthian helmet worn by Hellenic soldiers. Whether it was a defect from birth, some childhood injury, or a curse from the gods, he never said, and none ever knew.
The first time he'd heard the name was in the Spartan agoge, the school and rite of passage all spartan boys underwent in order to become men - peers in their land, equal to all but kings. Normally, only males born to spartan parents are allowed to participate in the agoge, but there were occasionally exceptions made for a particular child if his parents had close spartan ancestry or were friends who had done a service for Sparta; the latter being his circumstance.
These 'strangers' were held to a higher standard of admission than Spartan children - for good reason. The spartan boys bullied outsiders mercilessly. He was Athenian, and even though Athenians were looked upon favorably in Sparta, it would require strength to survive.
He didn't make a good first impression. Already the deformity of his skull was obvious. He had managed to keep a brave face during the voyage from Athens to Laconia, but when they arrived at the city of Sparta he lost his nerve. When the stone-faced ephor had taken him from his father's hands, he wept shamefully. entering the small dormitory where he and 3 other boys would spend the next 10 years together, his strange appearance and wet cheeks were instantly scorned.
The closest boy was the first to confront him, jabbing a finger in his face. The spartan was shorter yet stout and had dark hair, with unkempt brows narrowed in hostility; and when he opened his mouth his teeth were crooked and gapped.
"I am Clearchus. This is my room and you cannot join us You look weak and ugly and you don't belong in sparta. Your parents must be very stupid they didnt throw you off a cliff!"
From that moment he started what would become the habit of a lifetime - before speaking a single word to the Spartan, he attacked, and left the shorter boy on the floor. The other two joined and soon they were all four exhausted and in terrible pain, being fierce beyond their strength and causing great mutual injury.
Things improved from there, but they were never easy, and he was never fully welcomed by most boys his age.
He grew into his tall body, turning first lean and stretched, then supple, then powerful. Gaining strength was not easy - they were fed little, and treated with a brutality that left the weakest few crippled or dead every year. They were encouraged to fight amongst themselves, to steal to survive, to improvise, and above all to endure pain.
In the natural way of things, the boy he first fought became his closest friend, and together they formed an unbreakable bond. Clearchus and Helmet-head; and two forms of Greek more different could not be invented - as if their friendship personified the contrast between the two peoples, Doric and Ionian. Whereas his own affliction was hidden beneath the true helmet, Clearchus' was visible every time he spoke or smiled - so he did neither, as often as possible. Over time he perceived that what he had taken for the unfriendly character of the Spartan - taken to an extreme - was in fact borne of a deep insecurity, and an anxious desire to appear noble.
By now his fellow boys had learned to treat him with a grudging wariness, always alert for the swiftness of his long reach. By the instructors of the agoge - 'boy-farmers' - he was treated exactly as any other native Laconian, given no special treatment (that he could see) on account of the king's sponsorship, nor additional hardship on account of his nationality. It was only later he would come to realize that this was done out of respect to his father, and in compliment to him - that they ignored the defect of his head and focused on the defects of his ability.
It was also later, when he learned who Clearchus really was, that he saw the hidden ways in which he was given favored placement.