It was months after his final trials in the agoge had ended when he first saw her. A daughter of the court, just on the cusp of womanhood. A friend to the palace, not below the notice of Sparta's new king. At first, he had not known her, or any woman. She had been a strange creature to him, this tall, willowy girl with flashing eyes; she was a thing beyond his understanding.
In the beginning.
Young Leonidas, newly crowned and newly a true Spartan, had still much yet to learn. His years in the wild had prepared him to kill; his years under the tutelage of his father had prepared him to fight with honor. Nothing could prepare a man, Spartan or any other, for kingship.
For the first time in years, he would be dependent on others to show him the way. This irritated Leonidas. It seemed to him that he had learned everything of himself during his time in the agoge, but now his time would be spent learning of others, of the Spartan kings of the past, of great wars and battles, of philosophy and government law.
He had made his return to great Sparta, carrying the dead wolf as proof of his strength, cunning, and determination. His father had looked into his eyes then and known it was not some clever imposter, but truly his living son, Leonidas that had returned to begin his training for the crown. Immediate events had taken place- a grand celebration throughout the whole of the city; feasts, costumed dances, sacrafices to the gods in thanks, and all in honor of the young boy that had braved the world to become a man. A king. A Spartan.
The wilds had been harsh, the winter bitterly cold. Food had been scarce. After weeks of surviving on what roots he could dig and tiny mice he could catch, Leonidas had nearly forgotten the harvest feasts. He had eaten hearty, slowly dining on roast meats, sweet breads and wine, dazed with the realization that he had survived the trials of the agoge and had finally come home to the palace of Sparta.
Even as he had begun his training and lessons, the celebrations still took place. There had been no feast this night, rather a simple supper as he preferred, but there was sure to be more celebration to be had. Leonidas supposed the palace planners intended a grand party with every passing month. He preferred instead to focus on the more pressing matter of his education, and what it ultimately meant to be a king.
Leonidas had eaten his fill and then elected to take to the palace gardens for a time, enjoying his own company, as it were.
He stared out towards the mountains in the distance, his mind slow and his eyes tired.
"How goes your education, my son?"
He turned to find King Androcles, his honored father, striding toward him. Leonidas became alert, standing straight and giving his full attention to the older man. "Very well, father."
The older man smiled and put a large hand over Leonidas's narrow shoulder. "You cannot lie to your father, young king. Remember that, and understand that I know the weight on your mind. Here you are, not yet one month returned to Sparta from the agoge, and you are crowned. Legions are at your command, all of Sparta bows at your feet. And you are not happy."
Leonidas frowned and fell into step beside his father. "I am not…unhappy."
Androcles nodded beside him. "I was 'not unhappy' when I first took my crown. Many overlook the responsibilities that define kingship, Leonidas. Only a helot or a fool would wish for the crown. Only a true Spartan can wear it."
Androcles paused then, and faced his son. "Your mother was not alone in her fear when your trials began, Leonidas. In my heart, I knew you would triumph, yet every morning, I knelt with Dorinda and together we begged the gods to watch over you. You have returned to Sparta as a stranger to my eyes, but in my heart I knew you as my young king. My son."
Leonidas looked into his father's eyes, still strong and bright in the light of the dying sun. There could be no doubt of lineage, as they were far too similar in appearance but to be father and son. Both of them heavily muscled, though Leonidas more leanly so, they had the stance of born warriors. His father bore many scars from his years in battle; his hair had become brushed with silver, though much of his mane was still dark yet.
The young king bowed his head slightly in a show of respect. "Father, I thank you for your praise, but had it not been for your guidance nothing would have become of me."
Androcles laughed, "Not how I remember it, boy! You wanted to fight from the moment you first drew breath. Never in my life had I seen such vigor or stubbornness. Your mother lives through you."
Leonidas glanced up. "Yes. Father, I have wanted to ask you, where is the queen? I had expected to see her sooner."
This was a question that had lingered between them, unspoken, for days.
Leonidas remembered his mother well. A strong woman, a true Spartan, she had aided him throughout his father's instruction. It was she who had birthed him and cared for his every need.
As all Spartan mothers, she had fought the guards sent to restrain her when the day came for him to leave Sparta and begin his training in the agoge. The last sound Leonidas could recall of her were screams of his name, and the order to be strong, to live where his brothers before him had died.
Androcles paused in his reverie and moved to stand in the center of the grand palace gardens. Leonidas watched as his father took deep breaths, steeling himself to say what he already suspected to be true. The older man began to speak, then thought better of it, stopping himself.
Leonidas watched and waited to hear the words, a painful revelation from one man to another.
Finally, Androcles spoke. "I will tell you once, and only once, Leonidas. After this, we will not speak of it again- it pains my heart too greatly to relive her memory over and over again. Dorinda, your goddess mother, she fell greatly ill. It was in your tenth year, during the agoge, that she began to complain of a pain in her vitals," Androcles said, motioning to his stomach. "She was with child, and one night she woke me with her screams. There was blood, more blood from her body than I'd thought a woman could hold. The court mystics and physicians could do nothing for her…in that night I lost my wife and what would have been your sister."
Leonidas felt a tightening sensation in his throat and a deep pain in his chest. His mother, dead. She, who had not lived to see her son survive the trials of agoge, to return as king and take the crown of Sparta…
Inwardly, he mourned for his mother, Sparta's finest queen.
Leonidas had no concept of a woman with child- he'd been only a boy once he had been taken from Sparta to begin his training. There had been no women where the agoge began, and certainly none to be seen while roaming the wilds, fighting the bitter cold and the beasts for survival.
Leonidas could not mourn for this child never born, but he did hear the pain in his father's voice. The slight admission of weakness did nothing to lesson Androcles in the eyes of his one surviving son; it was proof that his father was a just man, a fine Spartan king, but still yet a man.
Androcles sighed and shook his head, ridding himself of Dorinda's screams, the torment of his own helplessness that night, years ago now. "Enough of this, Leonidas," he said, his voice heavy. "Your mother would have wept with joy to see you walk through the gates of Sparta, to take the crown and someday, to take a wife of your own."
Leonidas looked up, "A wife?"
Androcles nodded and they began to walk once again, unmindful of the twilight sweeping over all of Greece. "Yes, my son. A wife. Sparta needs a queen- a fine woman to bear you a flock of fine sons. There is no need to choose a woman now; not now when your mind must remain focused on your education. But soon. When the time comes, the palace will receive offers from the public. Those with eligible daughters will wish to organize meetings with you."
Leonidas felt adrift; when he'd returned to the city he had seen few females. Young children, little girls playing in the fields with little boys. Older women keeping shop on the streets had called out their wares to him once he'd returned, but Leonidas had since remained within the palace walls for his education. There was not a woman among them.
The very concept of a wife was foreign to him, and he had not been informed of the custom of choosing a woman.
"Meetings for what?" He asked baldly.
Androcles laughed again. "It seems that the great Leonidas does not know all, eh? Leave it for now, my son. Remain focused on your studies and always think of Sparta. You will not need to choose a wife just yet, but when the time comes, you must choose wisely. A man needs a wife, and Sparta needs her queen- only you can choose the woman worthy."