Ancient History & Civilisation


The Old Breed

No way out, Melissos knew. Still, if the henchmen of Lichas thought to kill a royal of Makedon, a son no less of Amyntas, then they would at least learn it was no easy thing. Mêlon covered Melissos to keep the youth safe until the last. The five Spartan men wore full armor. The near-naked Kuniskos was more than a match for the staff of slow-foot Nêto. Elektra would have to fight him for her head, or, better yet, let her Thibrachos have first claim on her.

Lichas paused at the Makedonian boy’s plea and scoffed, “Leave, foreigner. You are nothing to me. We kill the rest as they are, and burn them up. You go down the mountain and tell all of the funeral smoke you saw.” Melissos stayed quiet and right by his master Mêlon, no longer the hostage but the loyal man of the Malgidai, as much a Boiotian as any in Thebes.

The long talk ended and finally Lichas raised his slashing blade of black iron, to cut down this Makedonian upstart first. “You, you …” Then came a loud crash, as if the rafters had been ripped off the house. Lichas was cut off before “humeis” fully left his lips. The Spartan tottered, blood spurted out his nose. Then only for a moment he let out a wild shriek as he vomited more blood. His helmet flew off his head as he fell face first to the stone floor, with a long spear stuck firm into the base of his skull, cast from twenty paces outside the door. Just like that, Lichas, of forty years in the first rank, killer of a hundred and more—he just fell over, a man, not a god, after all.

The spear throw had come from outside the threshold. Was Ares or Apollo in his armor roaming Taygetos? No mortal with mere blood in his veins could fell such a peer with a single throw, surely not tall Lichas, whom the prophets said was sacrosanct and immune from the blades of free men. There he lay in a growing pool of red, on the ground gurgling and twitching about, a spear point gone almost out through his mouth. A moment later his killer was at the threshold and leapt over the fallen Lichas. The Spartans were frozen in place, stunned as the stranger burst upon them. Then he stabbed the retainer of Lichas, tall Lakrates. That Spartan too toppled over. The sword stroke hit well above the shoulders and came out through the upper throat. Was the house under attack by Pelopidas and the Sacred Band?

No. A sole figure had come through the front doorway and stood over the two bodies. He was deliberate in his sword and spear work, and now almost motionless as he looked about. A wild dog barked behind him. The stranger still paused and then finally stomped on the corpses and let out a piercing war cry as he at last turned toward Elektra. He picked her up by the back of the neck with his good right arm, and then swung her head against the hut wall—three, four, and five times before she quit her pleas. “Lichas! Help, Lichas. My Lichas!” So ended the granddaughter of Agesilaos. She had come to kill the leashed Nêto and earn five hundred silver owls from the strongbox of Phrynê—and yet never got in a single swing of her grandfather’s black ax. Chiôn of Taygetos finally stopped slamming Elektra into the mud brick, as he looked up at the three Spartans at the other end of the cabin turning to flee. Should he first deal with Kuniskos, and then go after the other assassins? He yelled to Nikôn to the side as he threw down the pulp of Elektra and carefully stepped ahead. “Kill Gorgos. Kill him now—and I’ll get the others.” As he stopped, Chiôn punched Gorgos in the gut and sent him stumbling backward.

So broke in Chiôn of the good right arm, long thought dead here in the south in the tumult of liberation, always on the scent of his Nêto whom at last he found to be alive in the remote hut of Gorgos. He for weeks had followed Gorgos’s trail on Taygetos, waiting for this moment to finish what he had promised. Now Chiôn lumbered on through the room, half-crouching to avoid jabs to come if the three Spartans ahead should choose to turn back and fight. The wolf-dog followed to guard his Nêto. Mêlon immediately turned to take on the Spartans at the rear door and kept himself between their spears and Nêto.

Behind Chiôn in the din, Kuniskos stood up again, still off balance from the blow to his midriff. “Get the slave one-arm. Where is my Lichas? Lichas. Lichas. Lich—.” He too was cut off. Nikôn and Melissos in near unison slammed their blades—wide choppers that were hard to poke with, but made a larger hole if they got through flesh—into Kuniskos’s lower gut. The man had been made dizzy by Chiôn’s blow, and his head was still crackling with fire, when he had turned to his left to warn the Spartans on the other side and fell to the floor cursing them. Nikôn was then atop the dying helot even as he tumbled to the dirt. He plunged his knife five more times into the back of Gorgos to keep him silent. At the same time Nêto, weak, lame, and dizzy still, took up her stick with both hands and clubbed the bald head. Melissos jumped on him as well. He had no beard, but he had once learned in Makedon to kill with a careful jab to the big neck vein, and his thin arm was as strong as any ephebe’s in Boiotia.

In a wild frenzy, her stick now broken, Nêto kept thrashing with her nails and fists at the backside of the dying Kuniskos. She was tearing his two braids right off the sides of his head. “Helot to helot, old man,” she kept repeating as Nikôn rolled her off. “Helot to helot. For Erinna and all the rest. For Erinna. For Erinna. For Chiôn. For Lophis. For our Proxenos.”

Here ended the helot Kuniskos, once the terror of the Messenians, who had taken off so many heads and was about to lose his own. He was once the good servant of the Malgidai, but now pierced by Nêto, the freed woman of Helikon, and by Nikôn and Melissos, he bled out his life force on the floor of a dirty hut where the goats and cows of Taygetos sought shelter. Nêto had known, even with rope and chain these many months, that he was to die by the hand of a Messenian, but the goddess had told her only that—not that Nikôn or she herself would strike. Gorgos had wanted his way one last time with Nêto, but she got hers with him instead.

Kerberos, splattered in the gore of Lichas, took over and tore at the neck of the Kuniskos whose scent Keberos he now remembered from Helikon, along with the kicks he had endured. The wolf-dog locked onto him hard and bit so hard on his neck that the hound ripped off the head of Kuniskos from his body. Nêto stumbled up and let out a shriek—or was it laughter? “Pull it off for your dead Sturax. Look. The head cutter has his own cut by a dog, by a dog like him.” She let out her war cry and like a Bacchant grabbed the head of Gorgos and threw it over at the battered corpse of Elektra.

Amid the killing of the four Spartans, Ainias and Mêlon had turned to stab their way through the back entrance. They were eager to catch the three remaining Spartans who had backed out into the open pen and were turning to run through the stockade. Chiôn now was heading to the rear of the hut to join his friends for the final fight, but Mêlon first hit the backpedaling Spartan, a stab below his war belt into the groin. He was a youth of twenty seasons or so on his first patrol—Thibrachos by name, son of Elektra herself from her first marriage to the brother of Lichas.

This fool Thibrachos for a moment had turned back around to fight after all, once he saw the brains of his mother splattered over the flat stones of the opposite wall. He had his eye on the slashing sword of the approaching Chiôn in the distance and never saw in the shadows Mêlon’s jab with Bora that went in above hip and brought out the black blood from his insides, along with his guts as well. Though the thrust was underhand, Mêlon sent the sharp iron right under the bronze, three palms deep into the Spartan’s midriff. Thibrachos died too, not more than twenty paces from Kuniskos—the fifth of the ambushers to fall before any had a chance to strike back.

As Thibrachos crumpled, the last two Spartans had tried to turn and flee out to the courtyard beyond. Ainias was quick with his blade and stabbed the second Spartan from the side. The doomed hoplite had tripped over his cloak and for a moment only flashed his unarmored flank. That was enough for Ainias, who sent the iron right into his armpit, and the sword tip up toward the heart, lifting him off the ground. This second Spartan was a better man than young Thibrachos and was known as the chopper Klôpis, son of Deinon, and the enforcer to Lord Kuniskos in Messenia. As he fell back from the spear-thrust of Ainias, Mêlon came up behind and jabbed his spear butt through the back of his neck, and the Spartan hit the floor.

Chiôn for a second time halted in slow walk toward the back door, as his friends finished with his last two targets. Now in greater fury still, whether at his friends or enemies, the freedman suddenly headed through the back courtyard as he caught sight of Antikrates, the last Spartan alive. But Antikrates was a wiser sort than the two firebrands at his side. He had spied his planned way of escape the moment his father had fallen. Antikrates knew the perfidy of Gorgos—who had tolerated no rival to his return to Messenia—and so long ago had planned an exit should Kuniskos and his Klôpis try to kill him as well in their bloodlust. Antikrates had thirty paces at least on Chiôn, heading through the pen to the mouth of the cave and safety. A wiser Chiôn of two good arms and of earlier times in the high vineyard of Helikon would have stopped, and with raised shield defended himself from a spear toss.

But like all of the old breed in the hut, friend and enemy alike, Chiôn held life less dear here at the final reckoning—and more so for Chiôn with the loss of an arm, the deaths of Proxenos and Lophis, and the maiming of Nêto. Without breastplate and shield, Chiôn reckoned that he could catch the better-armored Spartan before he cleared the fences and was into the mountain. Why not? His legs and chest were tired but still stronger than most others’. And this Antikrates looked fat from his year after Leuktra, no longer the same man who had saved his father and the body of their king. Chiôn went right on past Ainias and Mêlon, who were finishing their iron work with the two henchmen of Antikrates. He began to trot with his sword in his good right arm stuck out in front of him for the final jab. Chiôn quickened his pace, and indeed closed much of the distance, but the running Antikrates was too far ahead, the mouth of the cave far too close.

Even Kerberos could not reach the Spartan. Just then at the entrance to the mountain Antikrates himself had a wild idea. This Chiôn was one-armed and slower than he thought—and no doubt spent. So the son of Lichas turned and for a moment saw that he would be safer, now and in years to come, to attack his nemesis than to keep fleeing into the cave. Antikrates raised his spear and cast at the onrushing Thespian. This was not a light willow javelin, but a heavy cornel for stabbing with its broad iron head, like the spear Chiôn had just flung into Lichas. It took a man of Antikrates’s size to hurl the long shaft with any power. Still, his pursuer was an easy target, large and without armor, coming on without balance. Chiôn had no left arm for a shield—nor even a spear any longer to bat away the thrust. It was back inside the hut, buried deep into the head of Lichas.

Chiôn was using only the sword, an old blade that Mêlon had given him on Helikon that he had torn back out from the dead Lakrates. Chiôn saw the spear and swung at the incoming tip. Too late. Antikrates’s throw hit him under the chin. The iron went deep right through Chiôn’s neck above the left collarbone, not far from his old wound at Leuktra. The tip broke through on the other side, as the weight of the shaft itself brought Chiôn to a stumble.

Antikrates stopped for an instant and announced to the sky that he had killed Chiôn, the bane of the Spartans. Kerberos froze and then turned back to shield his downed master. With a wild yell of triumph at his felling of Chiôn, the better man, Antikrates ran through the cave on his way to Sparta and fame. He reckoned up his kill, bellowing “Apektenon Chiôna, apektenon ton doulon, ton megan, ton doulon tôn Malgidôn.” Even as he yelled, he had bigger thoughts held quiet in his chest, for he was wild in his escape and his freedom. “I run free of Chiôn. Free of my father Lichas who had lived too long anyway. Free and richer with my orchards and vines from the snake Elektra. Better they’re all dead and the old age of Sparta as well. I will live for better kills yet, kill better than this Chiôn. It will be sung a hundred years from now in new, better Sparta, that I Antikrates killed the best pigs that Boiotia offered. I kill today so I can kill more tomorrow. I killed Chiôn of Helikon. I will kill his master soon enough and then Epaminondas too.”

Such were his mad unspoken thoughts, but those behind heard only one refrain echoing back out the mouth of the cave: “Chiôna apektenon, Chiôna …” I killed Chiôn. Chiôn was down amid the dung. He had tried to grab the fence rung before sinking back into the muck of the pigsty. Chiôn had been foretold to be a killer of the royal ones of Sparta. For his part Antikrates likewise, the gods said, was to live on to kill the best man of Boiotia. These two prophecies dueled. Chiôn lost out. Perhaps the goddess Artemis forsook this believer in Pythagoras, ruing his lack of good meat on her sacrifice table. Perhaps she figured the slave had already killed enough of the royal guard at Leuktra, as she had promised. So the Messenians later would argue to explain the death of the godlike Chiôn and the win of the coward Antikrates. Had Chiôn not sent his spear into Lichas and killed Lakrates, or had he not kept smashing Elektra long after she gave up the ghost, or had he chosen to rest on his laurels while Mêlon and Ainias finished all three of the Spartans off, he would have come back to the farm with his master, once more the heroic pair returning from their defeat of the Spartans.

Yet Antikrates was relish, no more. Chiôn had gone wild anyway on Taygetos and was no more Damô’s farmer. He had long since finished with Helikon and would leave Mêlon with no enemies at his back, and Damô and the boys safe with Myron from the likes of Dirkê and her henchmen. In a moment Mêlon and Ainias rushed past the dying Chiôn and chased the Spartan into the mouth of the cave. Antikrates had peeled off his armor and was sprinting ever deeper into the mountain. All they heard was that distant echo off the walls: “Chiôn. I killed Chiôn.”

By the time Ainias and Mêlon reemerged from the tunnel and ran back to the hut, Chiôn was white. Nêto was wobbly on her legs and now had come out of the hut. Fury had revived her, that and the blood of Gorgos. She had not dared pull the spearhead out of Chiôn, since it had an ugly barb that had barely broken through the skin on his backside. Ainias somehow broke the shaft off at the socket. This time no hot poker he knew could close such a hole. The wound was a half palm or more wide and showed a ripped vein and blood squirting over Chiôn’s torso. Nêto tore off a strip of her cloak and stuffed all of it into the mess around the spear socket. At the sight of the old ugly lambda brand burned into the flesh of the poxy cheek of Chiôn, Nêto shrieked out at the hated Taygetos.

Chiôn whispered after her yells died down. “That damned ship. Five days lost. Our Nêto warned me of water. No fear of the sea.” He caught a breath. “Gorgos, Lichas no more, Master. Antikrates won. Too late for Erinna. Up in the ice and snow, to pay back for Lophis, for Proxenos, for our Nêtikon. But Nêtikon, our Nêtikon lives. And Damô and the boys.”

He was gasping. Then his eyes went shut, and he sputtered out, “Live on Mêlon. Last of the Malgidai, last of the way Hellas once was.”

Chiôn went quiet. He smiled at his beaked Kêr who was on the corner on the hut’s roof shrieking, ready to swoop. If she neared, he would strangle her as his last victim, even as the two tumbled into Hades. His chest heaved up and down with the deep, methodical breathing of death’s embrace that not even he could escape. Chiôn slipped off with visions of the evening at the lever of the press and the reflection of his master’s face in the pond above the farm.

Mêlon whispered an epitaph. “I will hunt this Antikrates. That I promise.” But even in his furor Mêlon promised nothing about killing the fleeing Spartan, since no Boiotian had managed that yet. And now he was gone and headed down the slopes to Sparta.

Chiôn was far distant, with both good arms, skimming the moss out of the pond on the farm, as Damô called for him to go up to the tower and gaze with her down at the grids of their trees and vines of Helikon. Nêto was skipping on the farm path, her deer legs as long as they were hale. His lips froze at last in a smile that did not end. He could leave this forest after all, and at last go home to his high, his sunny vineyard.

Not far away, the young Klôpis stirred and staggered to get up, woken by the echoes of the wailing of victory from Lichas’s son deep in the cave. Then his ragged cloak caught a fence rail. Ainias had stabbed the brute only with a single blow, deep, but not enough to drain his blood. So there was some beating for a while longer in the heart of the Spartan. The keen eye of Nikôn missed him. Hatred gave this Klôpis power still, even though he had been groaning in the dirt. Klôpis thought it enough to win some glory for his one son back home, perhaps soon to be made into song by his dead father’s killing of Mêlon of Helikon. Half-dead Klôpis thought he could rise to spear one or two of the four as they crouched over Chiôn, or maybe tear out dead Chiôn’s windpipe as a trophy.

Fool. He had hardly neared Chiôn, when Kerberos let out a howl and tore at his ankle, his jaws locked fast. Nêto rolled over to him, and she shrieked with her own war cry, shorter and louder “Alalê. Alalê.” Kerberos held the dying man fast. Nêto got to the side of the staggering Klôpis, and then plunged her long knife between his thigh and the back of his knee. Ainias finished him off with a wide slash to his neck that nearly took the head of the head-cutter Klôpis off altogether. “I cannot even kill a man right any more,” he offered.

“Get him off, get him off. Get that dung off our Chiôn,” Nêto shrieked back. “That filth won’t touch our Chiôn.” She hit the dead man with her stick. It was all the two could do to tear off Kerberos. He was again the wolf on Kithairon, eager to chew on this head and take it over near that of Gorgos. As Nêto’s rage subsided, Ainias turned to Mêlon. “Are we so short of men that we need women and those with one good arm? Are we so sightless that we did not see what he planned all along—or did we wish Chiôn to do all along what we said we did not?”

Now that they were surrounded by dead Spartans, Mêlon relaxed and answered slowly. “Chiôn lived as he wished, with faith in his One God. He could not—like you, Ainias, as well—live in peace, not a man like this, knowing that worse enemies walked free in Sparta and that Lichas and his son had paid no penalty for the good men they had killed at Leuktra and the more they planned to kill down here.”

Nêto was crying. She leaned on the fence. Her cloak was soaked with the blood of Gorgos and Chiôn. “I saw him days ago on a ship, on the water near the Isthmos. His face was always hidden in the shore mist. Our Chiôn wandered cold and dirty on the mountain, always to our aid.”

Ainias calmed. “We will take him back to Ithômê in the fashion of a king, and burn him as first citizen of a free Messenia. He saved us all at Leuktra and here on Taygetos. He killed the best of the Spartans even after he saw the Aegean.” Mêlon could not speak any more, for Chiôn was his second self, a man he cared for more than any but Nêto, so he turned and readied a pyre. He dragged the twice-struck corpse of Klôpis back into the cottage, its head trailing in the dirt, hanging by a sliver of tendon attached still to the spine. Then in fury Mêlon shuffled back out of the hut and with Ainias carried Thibrachos back in as well and threw him on the table above Klôpis.

Nikôn groaned, “That’s two and the worst are to come.” Mêlon grabbed the heels of Lichas across the room and dragged him over, then bent, picked him up, and dumped him on Klôpis. His eyes were closed, but Lichas in his greed kept some of the life breath inside his chest, beat off a Kêr, and sputtered, “Hit only from the back I was. I killed that man at Leuktra. I killed the slave at Leuktra. A daimôn, not a slave.” Then he spat out a final boast, “From the back I die—tethnêka. You all will miss me.”

Mêlon scoffed at the dead Spartan. “Fool. Chiôn was no slave. Remember that as you are winged away to the other side, foul man.” Then he put his hand around the throat of Lichas. The bane of the Thebans was already gone, gone with the truth that it was a free Chiôn who had sent him to his reckoning, gone with some choked-out noise that sounded like another faint “you miss me.” Meanwhile Melissos was busy and had pulled Lakrates over by the helmet crest, his chin strap holding the drag well enough. There were two Spartans on the long low table, two below on the floor nearby with the body of Gorgos and his head. Ainias blurted out, “Antikrates is halfway to Sparta now with big talk of killing Chiôn, always to boast over the better man. The stink of Hades is on that Spartan. Or maybe he’s no Spartan, but one of those daimones who have a secret door to go in and out of the darkness below with ease. Maybe he was the man-bear, since he knows the caves on this mountain better than any.”

Nikôn answered. “Nêto warned of the son of Lichas who lapped up the poisonous milk of Kuniskos. I fear he will do far worse than boast of killing our Chiôn. He has a bad date with one of us, or maybe many to come.”

The trunk of Gorgos was lying face down in two large puddles of blood. “He bled red,” Ainias offered. “I thought he would leak black like what has dribbled down his legs.”

Mêlon was already dragging over Elektra by the braids and stopped to grab a wider grip of hair from the backside of her head. The weight vanished from his hand, as he pulled off a thick black horse-hair wig. Below him fell the bald Amazon, old and wrinkled, her hairless skull hitting the stones, with its teeth all knocked out. Mêlon picked her up and tossed her on top of her husband Lichas, royal granddaughter of Agesilaos, as if the hag were no more than a sack of barnyard waste. “Yoked to the last, they can say of these bald Spartans.” All of the Spartans were finally on or under the table in Nêto’s old haunt. Gorgos’s bowls were still set for his victory feast.

Mêlon then put the mangled head of Kuniskos on the table, on top of the torso of Thibrachos, and passed his own right hand over the man’s bald and partly crushed pate. The braids were torn off, and Nêto’s nails had shredded his skin. Gorgos’s right temple was caved in from her clubbing. “He was a good man with a pruning hook. Some evil that was sired in him in his youth ate away at his heart. So it often is that when the good go bad, they prove the worst of all. He was a cursed helot, then free, and perhaps got too many of my foul looks when he got up late or pruned the wrong canes. The Spartan brand burned him all the same. I hate this man and can only think of my Homer to say how much: “I only wish that my spirit and fury would drive me to hack your meat away and eat it raw for the things you have done to me.”

Then Ainias paused and barked out, “Melissos, bring in the wood of Gorgos. The burners will be burned. And we will tear apart the fence out back to pile even more fuel over these vermin. Yes, torch them as they lie. That’s far better than how they would have left us. The Spartans will call it a hero’s pyre—we a purification.”

Nêto was still weeping as she sat in the dirt outside, propping Chiôn in her lap and wiping away the oozing blood of his wound with her tunic. “Had I killed Gorgos above Leuktra near the wagon. Had I had the courage even in the fort of Antikrates to end him, our Chiôn would now live. Instead I polluted our Chiôn, I let that foul killer’s blood drip on him from my tunic.”

Ainias was back outside and shrugged. “So we all could have done our part to avoid this. I froze when our hemi-god crashed through that door. No mortal kills Lichas with a single blow. No man takes down two of the royal peers as he rushes after three more. We were all a step behind him. Just as at Leuktra. We thought some god was upon us. But then Chiôn was a god of sorts.”

Mêlon answered Ainias. “Put him on the pony, just as Nêto once bore Lophis home. Wrap and tie him in these red Spartan capes that will hide his blood. Take him to Ithômê where he will be honored and burned as the hero he was. So ends the Fury who evened the score on Taygetos, so ends the man-bear of the high mountain. And when we return to Helikon I imagine we will see none who once bothered us. Yes, he had cleaned the field of thistles and burrs, but Chiôn had too many cuts and splinters on his hands to show for his thinning.”

Ainias walked away mumbling. “The end of the man-bear? Maybe—and then maybe not.”

The victors had piled the dry limbs and brush over the corpses, along with the posts and rails of the pinewood fence. A fire was soon licking the roof-beams, as the burning hut crashed down on the dead killers. The five watched it transfixed. “Do not breathe the smoke of Kuniskos or Lichas, master, or even that of Elektra,” Nêto whispered. “It is poison, and may draw the dark spirits who feed off such evil.”

Mêlon grimaced as the bodies crackled. He knew that laxity is the evil of the world—that the real barbarians were the refined and double-thoughters who think their hands are too smooth to put around the necks of the accursed. Too many times on Helikon Mêlon had let the killer Gorgos live. He knew now that the good, to kalon, comes alive only with action—the hard willingness to kill the bad and end the false sense of good that prompts us to lord ourselves over others that we are pure and free of blood guilt. Worse men worry whether the Gorgones of the world are given a good burial, the better only that they are dead. Terrible souls fret that Gorgos might have been a bit good, better ones know that it mattered little since he was mostly bad. And Mêlon did not know quite where he himself fit in all of that. He turned back as the flames devoured the head of Gorgos. Then loud sounds came from the pyre—either the juices and bones of his head frying in the heat, or maybe yet another gasp from a reawakening Lichas. Mêlon mumbled, “Even in death Lichas and Gorgos have the last words. Even the fire recoils from its foul fuel.”

“No, flame conquers all. Pur panta nikâ.” Ainias at last smiled and for just a moment the smoke intoxicated him. He now spoke, but just for a moment, as the Ainias of old, as he had before the death of Proxenos. “This time they have found fire, something stronger than their lies and evil. They will be ash on the needles of these trees by today’s breeze. They have all died poorly, these fakers of Lichas who claimed to be the true Hellenes because they so long and so eagerly put down the weaker—until we proved that they, not the helots, were the frail ones, the dregs of a new, a better Hellas.” The five in their fury had burned the hut, the fences—everything they could find that would ignite in the light drizzle. Sparks lit up the cold late-afternoon spring sky. Then carefully, with two red Spartan capes, Nêto wrapped and tied Chiôn. They cinched him over their small Messenian pony and headed back down the trail under the stands of wet spruce and fir. Kerberos led the way, howling at shapes on the crest above.

After about five stadia from the pyre, the dog sprang ahead. The five turned from the bend of the path back into an open meadow. The trail was muddy with stagnant pools. It was late afternoon. Kerberos howled and stopped. At last they found their guide Scorpas just as Chiôn had left him. His big idea to reach the old port of Pylos in the west had gotten no farther than a short walk from the hut of Gorgos, where the wolf-dog of Kithairon had cornered him. Chiôn had found him shuddering above Porpax, on the lower branch of a mountain oak, whimpering for his life and offering to lead the way back to the hut of Gorgos. Chiôn, the man-bear of Taygetos, had dealt with Scorpas as he had with the wild bears that he and Porpax had once run down above the farm on Helikon. The throat of Scorpas was slit from ear to ear. He was hung by the heels—and with his own tunic—from a limb. A pool of blood soaked the pine needles. A red beta was swabbed on his back. Kerberos now pulled on his dangling braids, furious to bring the corpse down.

“His end is a small nemesis,” Mêlon whispered as he gave the hanging corpse a push. They went on by and shooed Kerberos off, leaving Scorpas to swing as an offering to Chiôn. The wolves yelled as they went down the trail, in answer to the greeting of Kerberos, who knew their way well. The five hiked all night on the downhill path. It was right before dawn when the night walkers with Chiôn draped over the pony reached the low foothills beneath the west slopes of Taygetos. They had not bothered staying at the upland huts.

Nêto wept. Where was Alkidamas? Why had he let Chiôn go on from the coast? Then she sighed that it was hard to save a man who had begun living to die, rather than dying to live. Then Nêto—always the good bearer of corpses—leaned with her side on the horse to lay her arm on the wrapped Chiôn and secure his corpse, her Chiôn, bought slave of the Malgidai—free citizen of Thespiai, hero of Boiotia, and the great nemesis of the Spartans.

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