Gorgo had known that Leonidas would not return to her, to his children. He had known it as well. She had prayed for his protection, prayed to give him strength and courage to face his end. It had all been in vain, but she had fought against despair with her own sense of hope.
She had been in the fields with their first son when Dilios, all alone and badly wounded, had marched up the road. For a moment he had stood with the sun at his back, casting him into silhouette. Foolishly, Gorgo had felt her heart jump with hope that the man coming toward her was her husband, the great Leonidas...but as he moved closer she knew that it was not. Leonidas had been taller than this man. Darker. Of a bigger build.
She had recognized Dilios and felt a piece of her rot away and die. Leonidas has fallen at the hands of the Persians. It was Xerxes that killed my husband, my dearest love...
Dilios had been a friend to both Gorgo and Leonidas for many years. When she had acted as a healer, she had aided him after a fight and his life had been saved at her skill. He had fought beside her husband before they had even married; there were few men that Gorgo felt she could trust. Besides Leonidas, Dilios was first in honesty and pride. He had spoken no words on the road, only placing the wolf fang into her hands and continuing his march to Sparta. He had a wife and children to see, and after them, he would inform the Senate of what must be done, what Leonidas had given his life to protect.
Gorgo had stood for several moments, staring blankly at the necklace in her hands. Leonidas's gift to her on their wedding night. The wolf had long been a symbol of his strength, his cunning and courage. Theron had mocked her king's noble heart as being idealistic. Fool! It was not Leonidas that had been killed by a mere woman, exposed as a wicked traitor.
She felt small, strong thin arms at her waist and looked down to see their son. Pleistarchos. The first son, the future ruler of all Sparta. Her heart was screaming for Leonidas, already her soul felt half-dead, but she was queen. There could be no public wailing, no desperate clutching for a dead husband. She had to lead her people forward with dignity. Mourning Leonidas would be done in the privacy of their bedchambers. Already the realization that he would never set foot there with her again, never hold her, never kiss her, was jarring.
They had known he would be killed but, foolish as she was, Gorgo had allowed herself to hope for his survival.
If any man could face and defeat such an army as boasted by the Persians, I know Leonidas could do it!
How childish her hopes, how infantile in their gulibility.
Now is not the time for self-pity.
She knelt to Pleistarchos and searched his face for resemblance to his father. It was difficult for her to tell. She had never seen Leonidas as he had looked when he was a younger man, and certainly not when he'd been a mere boy! With her, his face had never been bare of a beard, his mane had been full atop his head; he had never been thin or small. Gorgo took a deep, shuddering breath.
Pleistarchos was silent as she assessed him, and then Gorgo realized. His eyes. They were the same dark, laughing eyes of fire that the king had possessed.
Strange that she had never noticed before now, but it might have been that Leonidas had come in spirit just then, to give them both the strength and the courage to continue on without him.
Gorgo passed the necklace over her son's head, and told him of the sacrafice his father had made.
The sacrafice he had made for all of Sparta, and how it would be Pleistarchos that would carry on his father's reign.
Their son nodded his understanding, and she knew in her heart that the boy did understand what she was telling him.
Gorgo felt a soft, warm breeze lift her hair and carress the nape of her neck. It was Leonidas, she knew, sending her a message of reassurance.
"Come, my son." Gorgo said, taking his hand into her own, "It is time we returned to Sparta."
Together, they moved to follow Dilios back towards their city, to the glorious victory that awaited.