Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Sunday, September 16, 2012

RELEASE OF "A Heroic King"

The third and final book in the Leonidas Trilogy, "A Heroic King" was released on September 15. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1. 

“A bastard?” the Chairman of the Ephors exclaimed in horror. “You’re saying that the ruling Eurypontid King of Sparta is a bastard?”
“I’m saying more than that,” Leotychidas replied coolly. Leotychidas was a tall, lanky man with the large nose typical of the Eurypontids.  He was the ruling king’s closest male relative, albeit only a second cousin, and he was officially his heir because Demaratus, at 49, had yet to produce a son. Leotychidas continued in an aggressive and self-satisfied tone, “I’m saying he does not have a drop of Herakles’ blood in his veins and has no right to sit upon the Eurypontid throne.”
“This is impossible!” A second ephor protested, no less outraged than the first. “He was born to King Ariston’s queen in the royal palace and immediately acknowledged by his father.  He never attended the agoge, and at his father’s death, almost seven Olympiads ago, he ascended to the throne without question.  He has no brothers. He is the only child King Ariston ever sired.”
“Ariston never sired anyone! He was as sterile as a mule!” Leotychidas sneered. “Have you forgotten he had three wives and the first two, maidens of good stock, gave him no sons, but produced children by their subsequent husbands?”
There was dead silence in the ephorate, the small but venerable building adjacent to the more imposing Council House and backed up against the Temple to Fear.  The five men sitting in the marble, throne-like chairs at the center of the chamber were just ordinary Spartan citizens. They had been elected to a one year term as ephor by the Assembly.  Each man owed his election to a varying combination of a distinguished career in public service, an effective election campaign among his fellow citizens, and the endorsements of influential members of Spartan society. Once elected, however, these ordinary citizens collectively became extremely powerful, which was why by law no one could be elected twice. The duties included receiving and dispatching ambassadors, issuing fines to citizens found guilty of breaking the law, and the dismissal of magistrates or commanders accused of wrong-doing. The ephors also served as advisors to the kings and in extreme cases could bring charges against them. 
The men gathered in this room were prepared for these duties. They were not prepared to hear that one of the kings, who had reigned for a quarter century already, was illegitimate. Yet what Leotychidas said was true: Demaratus’ father had had three wives all of whom had had children by subsequent or previous marriages, but only one of whom had ever given Demaratus a child.
Technarchos, the chairman of the five ephors, was a man respected for his hard-work and common sense.  In the army he had risen to the rank of enomotarch, but was passed over for promotion to company commander.  On attaining full citizenship, however, he had been appointed Deputy Head Master of the public school, the agoge, with responsibility for the 20-year old eirenes.  For twenty years he had fulfilled this demanding position with firmness and fairness, but he was not credited with particular subtlety or wit. Recovering first from his shock, he protested simply, “Demaratus was Ariston’s issue by his third wife.”
“Indeed!” Leotychidas agreed eagerly.  “A woman who had been the wife of Agetus, son of Alcides, and borne him children.  There was no question of her fertility, but she produced only one child in her whole, long marriage to Ariston and that son ― Demaratus ― was born too soon to have been sired by the king.  He was the son of Agetus.”
“That cannot be!” One of the other ephors, a man who had benefited from Demaratus’ patronage, insisted frowning. “Why would Ariston raise up the son of another man as his own?”
“Because he was ashamed to admit his impotence, and because he wanted to deny me my rightful place,” Leotychidas retorted sharply, adding in a more reasonable tone, “You need not take my word for it.  I have found a witness, a man who was ephor the year that Demaratus was born and he can bear witness to the fact that King Ariston knew Demaratus was not his son.”
The ephors looked at one another in astonishment.  It was 49 years since the birth of Demaratus. Since the legal minimum age for election to the office of ephor was thirty-one and ephors were usually men in their forties or fifties, any surviving ephor from the year of Demaratus’ birth would now be close to ninety years of age.  None of the men present were aware that such a man still lived.
Leotychidas opened the door leading directly into the Temple of Fear, and called into the darkened temple. He held the door open while a very decrepit old man, bent with age and clutching the arm of a young helot, entered the chamber.
The old man had so little hair left that he could not plait it from the forehead in the Spartan fashion and it was simply combed back over his scalp until it could be bound into a single, thin braid at the back of his neck.  The skin on his face and neck was splotched with age-spots and sagged upon his fleshless bones.  His eyes were grey with cataracts, and his mouth seemed to cave into his toothless mouth.  He shuffled forward until the helot holding him up came to a halt in front of the five city officials. There he just waited.
Techarchnos cleared his throat and asked politely, as was appropriate when faced with a man of such a venerable age, “Who are you, father? And why are you here?”
“I am Lakrates, son of Paidaretos,” he said in a surprisingly firm voice although his words were slurred somewhat for lack of teeth. “I am almost 100 years old, but I am here to be heard.”
“We are listening, father,” Technarchos assured him.
“Then listen well! I was ephor in the reign of King Ariston. On the very day that Demaratus was born, we five ephors were attending upon King Ariston when a messenger burst in upon us to announce the birth of a child to Ariston’s new queen.  Ariston was most astonished and in front of us he counted on his fingers the months since his marriage and ― with an oath ― declared ‘The child cannot be mine.’”
“But he accepted Demaratus! He brought him to the Elders! He doted on the boy!” The ephor who owed his post to Demaratus’ patronage protested with evident alarm.
“That may be,” the old man admitted pressing his lips together so that they completely disappeared into the cavity of his mouth. “But that does not change what he said,” he added stubbornly, and insisted, “He counted on his fingers and declared Demaratus could not be his child!”
“But why did you and the other ephors keep silent about this?” One of the other ephors asked skeptically. Although he owed Demaratus no particular favors, he was a reasonable man and found it hard to credit that such a significant utterance could simply have gone unnoticed for half a century.
“We did not! We told the Gerousia, but they were displeased. They were all Ariston’s men!” The old man spat out bitterly and his foul breath made the ephors recoil involuntarily, but the old man continued passionately. “They said the Eurypontid king had need of an heir and if the Gods had seen fit to give his queen a healthy son, then a month or two did not make any difference.”
Since a man had to be over sixty to be eligible for election to the Gerousia, members of this body at the time of Demaratus’ birth were all long since dead. No one could prove or disprove the accusation of the old man, but there was no denying that there had been a period when the Gerousia was dominated by clients of King Ariston.  They had been elected when the Agiad King Anaxandridas was still too young to have much influence with the citizens.  Only after they died out was Anaxandridas able to balance out the composition of the Gerousia by getting some his own candidates elected in Assembly.
“I say the Gods have made it perfectly clear that Demaratus was not meant to become king since he too has failed to produce an heir,” Leotychidas took up his appeal. “I, in contrast, have three fine sons. That alone should tell you where the Gods stand in this dispute!”
The ephors looked with varying degrees of alarm and discomfort at their fellow citizen. Although Leotychidas was not without his supporters, he was far from popular and had never distinguished himself either at arms or in other forms of public service.  What he was asking seemed utterly impossible to these five ordinary men, who for more than a quarter century had seen in King Demaratus a descendant of Herakles and representative of the Gods on earth.
The situation was particularly delicate because the ever erratic Agiad King Cleomenes was clearly going mad.  Last year, after a decisive victory over Argos, he had mindlessly slaughtered captives, burned down a sacred wood and ordered the army to withdraw rather than destroy the city of Argos once and for all. Since no one trusted Cleomenes any more, Demaratus was effectively Sparta’s only king. To suggest that he was not rightfully king, effectively made Sparta kingless ― at least until the issue could be resolved one way or another. Without a king to command it, Sparta’s army could not take the field.
The more he thought about the implications, the more Technarchos felt as if his head was spinning. He was a man with an acute appreciation of his own limitations, and he recognized that this dilemma was beyond him. He resolved to speak privately with the one member of either royal family who had over time demonstrated strength of character and leadership capabilities, Leonidas. Out loud, he declared, “We must consult with the Gerousia.”
Leotychidas smiled a crooked, sinister smile and shrugged, as he replied. “But of course. Consult the Gerousia.  But I am the rightful Eurypontid king and when I have been recognized, I will remember who sided with me and who tried to stand in my way ― even after the truth had been revealed.”

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