Title: For His King 1/1
Pairing: Leonidas + Stelios
Rating: Hard R
Warnings: Violence, drama, slashy thoughts.
Notes: This is the story of Stelios and the events that lead up to the Battle of Thermopylae. This attempts to follow his life as a young boy to his adult life. Knowing that the Spartans were not exactly into that sort of relationship, it was incredibly hard to write this and make it as believable as possible. Secondly, as much as I like to see Stelios and Astinos hanging out and boinking each other senseless, I feel that the love/respect Stelios had for Leonidas ran a little bit deeper. I mean, come on, the final scene between them? That sealed it for me. ^_^
Notes 2: Research went into finding out just how the Spartans lived, so Stelios will have a family, keeping in mind Artemis's reassurance that each man had someone to carry on their name, and it was a bit hard to figure out which war(s) the soldiers must have fought since Stelios says he's been in countless, and the only recorded wars before Thermopylae was the one at Marathon where the Spartans didn't show up until the last minute. Guh. Anyway, some situations have been moved around to fit the story, so no historian should get on my case. Thanks.
He could still remember the first taste of blood, which did not belong to him, the thick metallic scent and coppery sensation on his tongue as he licked his knuckles clean. He was six years old, just weeks before his seventh year and his introduction to the agoge, when he got into a fight with a Helot passing by his home.
He could still remember the shifty eyed look the older boy had given him, the way it had grated on his nerves as he realized what the dark-skinned thief was about to do. Stelios was not a patient boy, not one to really think first before acting. Ever since his father, Lykaios, had died on the battle field for his beloved country, Sparta, his commitment to protecting his mother was absolute. Helots were not welcome near his home – not them with their thieving, lying and conniving selves. They were slaves and they ought to remain on their side of city, never mingling with true Spartans like himself.
The Helot had dared to sneer, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back.
He would later confess that he couldn't really remember much of what had happened, until his beautiful mother, Alcina, had pulled him away from the battered features beneath him. Breathing heavily, his face streaked with blood like a grotesque display of primitive art, Stelios eyes were dark orbs of fire, his tongue darting out to lick his swollen, bruised and bloody knuckles with satisfaction.
He dared any Helot to cross his home again while suffering his mother's lashings, a grin on his face as he noticed that her eyes were filled with pride for his display of strength.
"He will make a fine soldier," he would overhear her saying to friends as he walked around town with a puffed chest, willing to show his peers the scars from his first real fight. How he gloated with delight at their looks of awe, envy, or disgust, for he was more than willing to embellish the story of his meeting with the Helot, so much so that in a week, the Helot had approached him with fangs of a lion and a spear long enough to gut his intestines. No one argued with the storyteller. He dared them to refute his tale.
On the day he was to leave for agoge, Stelios had barely slept the night before. His mother had prepared his favorite meal and they had eaten in silence, the crackling fire and his younger sister's snore their only companion. He had watched her strong features carefully, wondering if she would miss him at all. He was not sure of how to feel, for his young heart was filled with an eagerness to experience what he had only heard from the old men as a ritual of becoming a man. However, there was a gnawing hole within him at the thought of not seeing her for many years to come. He wondered if she'd be okay without him, if little Calliope would be helpful enough. She could barely fetch a jar of water without tripping over her own feet and –
"Finish your meal, Stelios," her husky but firm voice shattered the silence. He started as if caught doing something bad and licked his plate clean quickly. "Now get some sleep," she continued. "You have a long journey ahead of you."
She walked out of the room without a look back, leaving the boy to crawl into his bed of corn shucks and straw, pulling the thin cloth over him. His eyes remained open, although as they grew heavier, he could swear he had seen the silhouette of his mother standing at the doorway watching him. But perhaps it had only been a dream, for what seemed like mere minutes later, he heard loud banging, his little sister crying and the rough sensation of two strong hands pulling him out of his bed.
He tried to struggle, but it was futile. The two men looked like giants beside him, their features impassive as their long and heavy calico capes fluttered in the wind behind them. They dragged him outside to the courtyard, his bare feet scraping across sand and pebble as he tried to keep up. He didn't want to look around, but Calliope's tears and screams of 'Brother!' forced him to turn a little…and he wished he hadn't. His mother stood with his little sister within her arms, and although she did not move and did her best to hold the squirming girl in her grip, wet streaks cascaded her cheeks silently. His dearest mother. Strong. Brave. And now without a son.
He lowered his gaze to the ground as he was led further and further away from his home and the city itself. Cobbled stones gave way to dried grass and threshed wheat, the familiar smells of home-cooked meals, wet clothes and smoky Sparta, giving way to the fresher and harsher air of sepia mountains and valleys. He had never been this far away from home, never dared to venture past the invisible line of stones that bordered the main city from the countryside.
For how long they walked, he had no idea. The men did not seem to pause neither did they speak to one another. Stelios could feel his arms getting numb from their tight grips, the scorching afternoon sun peeling his flesh as the salt from his sweat made the pain nearly unbearable. His stomach rumbled with hunger, but the men made no attempt to stop or even offer him anything. His tongue felt heavy and dry within his mouth and he longed for a drink, but was content to lick his sweat-lined lip to gather moisture. He could feel sticky warmth between his toes, realizing that he was now bleeding as he had no sandals on his feet. He would not cry out, for this was a test. They wanted to see how much he could endure and he was determined to prove his worth.
As dusk fell, Stelios could make out a row of huts in the distance and the faint war chants – 'Awoo! Awoo! Awoo!' – from men who were no doubt soldiers in training. He could feel his pain disappearing slowly as they approached, his excitement superseding his initial feelings of fear. A row of boys, just like him, sat on the ground before the high walls that led into the barracks. The men finally released him, ordering Stelios to get in with his fellow companions. He winced as his knees popped from the motion of even crouching. He had been walking for so long; his limbs weren't cooperating much with him. He closed his eyes, trying to even his breathing as he ignored the looks that came his way. He had noticed several of his friends from the city, but the last thing he wanted to do now was act like he knew them. He was here to become a solider, to make Sparta and especially his mother proud.
The time for friendships would come much later.
"Stelios! You son of a motherless dog!"
The young man grinned, showing teeth that almost seemed chiseled beneath the sun. He leapt from the top of the roof, landing beside the crouching figures of Astinos and Dilios, to reach for his spatha which was imbedded in the soil beside them.
"Just testing out my new sword," he remarked as he slid it back into its sheath. He eyed the two soldiers before him, raising a brow at what they were up to. Dilios, an older and higher ranking officer and a talkative (although Stelios never said it to his face) was regaling young Astinos – he had come to the barracks five years after Stelios's arrival – with stories of the great battles of glorious Sparta's past.
"I heard that King Leonidas will be stopping by to visit," Stelios stated with a light grunt, hoping that his excitement wouldn't be too evident. The barracks was, of course, agog with the need to present itself as best as possible to its leader.
"Shouldn't you be worrying about something else, Stelios?" Dilios asked with a wry smile, ignoring the bemused look that Astinos threw his way. The boy was too young to know much anyway.
For a moment, the long-haired man stiffened and then huffed. "So what? It will only be for one night and then it will be over."
"What will be over?" Astinos asked, a bit put out that the older soldiers seemed to speak in riddles around him. He suffered a sneer from Stelios as his hair was ruffled.
"That is something you'll have to discover for yourself later, young one," Stelios said with an air of propriety.
"You are no older than I am," Astinos muttered beneath his breath. "Besides, Dilios will tell me in time, won't you?"
"Or maybe your father will," Dilios said with a shrug as he rose to his feet. He eyed Stelios again. "So you have found someone suitable to carry on your lineage?"
Stelios, now infuriated that Dilios insisted on continuing with the topic, spun on his heels to walk away. "I do not have the time for this, storyteller. Mind your own business as I will mine."
He smirked a little at the insult hurled his way, walking out of the courtyard as he made his way to his quarters. After his success with the ritual of Krypteia, where he led about ten of his fellow soldiers on their hunt to kill as many Helots as possible without being caught, it was finally time for him to return to Sparta to mate and produce a soldier for his country. At twenty years old, he had established himself as a formidable member of the army, willing to go the extra distance to eliminate his enemies. He had fought and clawed his way through all the hardships that had been thrown his way, had suffered the bitter cold in the mountains without food or shelter, he had been whipped countless times, his back now crisscrossed with scars from the lashes he had received. His threshold for pain was high and yet the very thought of being with a woman made him queasy and uncomfortable.
A visit back home a few months ago, had introduced him to the young woman by the name of Damiana. With eyes and hair as black as night, which fell in unruly waves to the small of her back, she was beautiful in her own right. His mother had approved and arrangements had been made for their wedding to be as quick as possible. He did have to return to the barracks after all. His attempts to speak to Captain Artemis about tonight's ritual had fallen on deaf ears. If Stelios was to become a part of the elite Spartan army, he would have to produce a son to carry on his name or not at all.
For the rest of the day, he lay on his bed, lost in thought. With hands beneath his head, he stared at the stone ceiling, listening to the sounds of young men talking, fighting, and chanting as they prepared themselves for future battles. He was only allowed to leave for the city once his fellow soldiers were asleep, for it was not deemed right to be seen by the others. He had listened to older soldiers give him advice on what to do and how to please a woman, but Stelios was frustrated with his inability to relate to what they said. For him, a woman – a real woman – was his mother, and the very thought of being intimate with her made him sick to his stomach. However, for Sparta, he would have to swallow his pride and perform his duty even if it killed him.
"She was born from the depths of Hades, I tell you," he grumbled as he washed himself quickly by the well the next morning. He suffered the laughter from Dilios and Adelphos, splashing water on his face and through his hair as he struggled to get rid of her scent. Like caged beasts, their coupling last night had been a violent spar – teeth scraping and biting, fingernails digging ridges into flesh as brutal thrust after brutal thrust had finally resulted in satisfaction…for her at least. Stelios had eventually come with distaste, spilling his seed inside of her while praying to the gods that a good son would be the result of this madness.
There were about five of them by the well, their bronzed skins glistening beneath the glare of the sun. Others sat around, naked in various states of their preparations for the day. Fresh olive oil was rubbed on well muscled torsos, arms, thighs and legs – the sweet smell permeating the air. Some combed their long tresses with crude combs, Stelios grabbing one that was thrown to him from Astinos.
"So she proved to be a violent one," Adelphos with a leer, his meaty frame settling beside the frowning younger man. "Most women like that are always the best."
"As long as she produces a son, my work is done," Stelios growled and turned his back, allowing Astinos to rub the sweet-smelling oil on his flesh. He closed his eyes, relaxing tense muscles as Astinos's ministrations seemed to work its magic on him. If only the boy would shut up for a moment. Astinos seemed to have inherited Dilios's penchant for storytelling. Getting irritated and ready to silence the younger soldier, they were soon interrupted.
"Get dressed men!!" came the sudden bellow from their captain which caused the soldiers to rise to their feet hastily. Stelios was quick to notice the shared look between father and son and for a moment felt a low flare of jealousy in the pit of his stomach; however it was quickly filled with nervous excitement at the next words from Artemis's mouth.
"Our good king Leonidas will be inspecting us by the full noon! Be at your best, boys!"
The murmur that raced through the barracks was lost on Stelios who all but ran to his quarters to find his cloak. He draped the heavy calico cape around his neck and shoulders, realizing that it would be the first time he'd come face to face with the legend that was King Leonidas. Dilios had done well in telling the soldiers stories of the great king's escapades as a young boy, and Stelios had done his best to pattern his life after the brave warrior. If his king could face a monstrous beast in the cold and darkness of the mountains and survive, then nothing was too tough for him.
He stood in line like the others, taking his place in the front as one of the best soldiers in the barracks. Already primed for the phalanx formation, neither soldier gave second thought to the way they were positioned. Together they stood in silence, the only sounds coming from their steady breathing, the rustling of grass beneath their feet, and the cawing of birds in the heavens above.
Soon enough, the footsteps of their king could be heard coming down the small flight of stairs, his low voice speaking to their captain as they shared a story only they knew. Stelios stared…and promptly forgot to breathe.
The legends did him no justice, for the man walking towards them was nothing short of a god amongst men.
With an aura of silent authority, power and strength, Leonidas easily towered and overwhelmed his soldiers. Dressed in a heavy cape that was almost dull gold, his body spoke of years of training, pain and battle. His hair was short and black, a single braid around his head to fall behind his neck. His chiseled beard made him more distinguished and gruff, but it was his eyes – those deep and bottomless pits of darkness that seemed to see all of them and yet more at the same time. It had young Stelios weak-kneed and eager…no desperate to please his king and to gain his approval. He knew he would die for this man if required to. Any day and anywhere, and before he could control himself, Stelios found himself blurting out loudly,
"We are here to serve you, sire! For Sparta!"
He held his gaze as the king, who had walked past during his inspection, turned to look at him again. He watched as Leonidas nodded in approval, a small quirk of his lips showing that he was pleased at the young man's outburst of solidarity.
"What is your name, boy?" came the voice, deep and rich like musk and honey. Stelios shivered, but kept his composure as best he could.
"Stelios, son of Lykaois, sire! My father fought and lost his life in the battle with the Athenians! I pledge my allegiance to you, sire!" He fell on one knee and lowered his head, heart pounding fiercely in his chest as he wondered what the king would do now.
"On your feet, Stelios," Leonidas replied, although there seemed to be faint amusement in his voice. "You had a brave father indeed."
Stelios lifted his gaze, doing as he was told.
"Do you love Sparta, Stelios?" Leonidas suddenly asked, a hard edge now filling his tone, dark eyes flinty with something akin to anger.
"Yes, sire!" Stelios replied with no hesitation. He was aware that everyone was now staring at them, as if wondering who would falter in this silent battle of wills.
"And you will do anything for Sparta?"
"I will die for Sparta, sire!" the young man answered with a pound of a fist on his chest. I will die for you, sire. He was thrilled, intoxicated – a heady rush of delirium at this verbal spar with his king. He tried not to grin, forcing his gaze to remain fixed on the dark ones that slowly lost its coldness. He held his breath as Leonidas took a step forward and sucked it in as the calloused strong hand fell upon his shoulder to squeeze it firmly.
"You are indeed a fine soldier, Stelios," came the words that danced within the young soldier's mind like a wheel. Such praise came rarely and he knew he would take it to his grave. "Sparta will need sons like you."
He turned away in a billow of gold and fine honeysuckle – a scent that Stelios tried to hang on to long after the king had been led away by his captain.
"He will dine with us tonight," Dilios was saying to the soldiers who were now breaking rank and talking in excitement amongst themselves. Stelios barely felt the hand on his shoulder as the storyteller sneered in amusement. "Perhaps you can continue to woo the king's affections then, young Stelios."
"I am not a Thespian!" Stelios bellowed, flushing a little at the laughter that greeted his outburst. He growled and stalked away from his comrades, embarrassed and dear gods, as hard as a rock. He crawled into the confines of his bed and with trembling fingers reached for the throbbing flesh within his undergarments. He moaned as he closed his eyes, grateful that none of the soldiers were around to watch him pleasure himself to the glorious image of his king – their excellent King Leonidas.
Sinful thoughts of those strong hands, which still tingled upon his shoulder, traveling down his chest, or his tongue caressing, teeth biting, and lips suckling hard on his flesh, sent the young soldier over the edge.
He came with a muffled grunt, his cry of satisfaction lost against his arm as he bit his flesh hard enough to draw blood. Taking a shuddering breath, he lifted his sticky fingers to stare at his seed, and for one brief moment, just once, he wished he really was a member of that clan of boy lovers.
Supper was a loud affair as soldiers danced around fires and sang loudly in praise to their king and the gods who favored them. Stelios sat between Astinos and Dilios, barely paying attention to their heated argument over the wisdom of the Thespians. He chewed on the flat crust of bread slowly, dark eyes watching the figures of Leonidas and Artemis as they spoke quietly. The king would have a troubled look on his face at times, stroking his beard as he listened to his captain. At times, his features would become animated, angry even as he pounded a fist on his thigh in frustration. Stelios frowned and rose to his feet, making sure he wasn't really noticed as he moved closer to the two leaders. Pretending to sip from his cup of wine, he overhead the following in bits and snatches.
"…the ephors insist that we cannot join the battle until the next full moon…"
"…hate the Athenians; this is a battle we must fight."
"…sent a runner from Marathon to tell us about Darius and his attack…"
"What can we do but wait?"
"Stelios? Is there something that interests you here?" came the sudden comment from Leonidas which had the young soldier sitting up at being caught eavesdropping.
"Hmm." Leonidas watched the young man carefully, his brows furrowed in thought. Finally, and just when it seemed like Stelios would be scorched from the intense look, he was asked. "Have you ever been in a real battle, boy?"
Stelios's heart skipped a beat. "No, sire. A few skirmishes with the Helots hardly account for a battle, my king."
"So you thirst for blood?"
Stelios couldn't help licking his lips, revealing a grin that would have frightened a lesser man. "Yes, sire."
Captain and King exchanged a quick look and as if giving a light shrug, Leonidas nodded. "Your captain tells me that you are one of the finest soldiers here, Stelios. Your time has come to prove it to Sparta…to me. Call Dilios and bring about thirty of your finest soldiers. The Thespians need our help and your thirst for blood just might be quenched."
His heart soared. A battle. A real battle at last and finally the chance to see if he'd ever be given a 'beautiful death' as the old ones had talked about. Just the very thought of fighting beside King Leonidas was a dream come true, almost too much for his young mind to take. He bowed low and jumped to his feet, leaping over sprawled soldiers as he sought for the storyteller. It took him a while to finally discover the half-drunk Dilios, and with a quick slap on the older man's cheek, Stelios all but roared into his face,
"Prepare for battle!"
Bodies. Like piles of colorful logs scattered by the gods themselves, the Spartan army towered above the battlefield of death, breathing harshly as crimson capes fluttered in the wind. The Thespians had done a fairly good job holding the fort considering how late their Spartan comrades had joined the festivities. Their leader, Militades, was obviously still upset with King Leonidas, and Stelios had watched as both men did their best to out shout the other over rules regarding Spartan law and their obedience to the gods.
However, Stelios was no fool. He could clearly see that his king was frustrated and angry over the state of things and that night, as they sat around their campfire, making preparations for the long three day journey back to Sparta, Stelios finally found the opportunity he was looking for.
"Here," he commanded as he noticed Aeneas filling a cup with water. "Let me take it to him. It is for our king, is it not?"
Aeneas nodded and not bothering to argue with Stelios, offered the jug and cup to the solider. Stelios walked carefully over the sprawled bodies, doing his best not to wake them. His king was a relative distance from the camp, his back leaning against a jutting boulder as his gaze seemed transfixed on the gray and frothy waves of the ocean several feet below. His helmet with its reassuring row of fine horsehair, lay beside his spear on the ground as Stelios knelt before the king, pouring the clear and cool liquid into the cup. He was aware of the king's dark gaze on him, even though Leonidas had made no attempt to move a muscle.
"You must be thirsty, sire," Stelios began in a voice that was almost lost in the sudden gust of wind that caused their capes to flutter loudly. He held up the cup with both hands, lowering his gaze to the ground and fighting hard to control the shiver that raced through his fingers, up his arms and down his spine as Leonidas accepted the cup from him.
"Thank you, Stelios," came the quiet reply. The king drank and Stelios kept his gaze lowered to his feet, now finding it hard to look into the blinding aura that seemed to surround his king. Oh, how much he wanted to say, to reassure Leonidas that today's mishap was only a stepping stone and it did not diminish his status in his eyes. So he had only killed a handful of Persians today, hardly enough to whet their bloodthirsty appetites, but the next time –
"Not exactly what you were hoping for, was it, Stelios?"
"My…lord?" The young soldier blinked and looked up carefully. Leonidas's gaze was fixed on the ocean again.
"A battle worthy of your talents."
"Oh." What could he say? "The Athenians held well, sire." He shook his head and continued quickly, as if hoping he had not upset Leonidas with the statement. "However, we had to obey the laws of Sparta, sire. We could not go to battle without the gods blessing."
He was stumped into silence at the hard look Leonidas threw at him.
"I was too bold, sire," he said contritely, lowering his gaze again. "I am willing to accept any punishment you give me."
He clenched his hands into tight fists on his lap, capturing his lower lip between his teeth and biting so hard he could taste the blood filling his mouth. He waited patiently for the slap or blow to his head, something his commanders had been eager to do whenever his mouth ran away before it could be stopped. He held his breath as Leonidas rose to his feet and winced inwardly as the king simply walked past, his cape brushing against his fingers in a dismissal of sorts.
"Get some sleep, Stelios," came the command, which had the soldier closing his eyes in defeat. He had upset his king after all. "But know this. There will come a time…when you'll understand that laws are meant to be broken."
"Yes, sire," he answered, rising to his feet to walk back to the campsite. He lay between Adelphos and Dilios, wrapping his cloak around him like a blanket. But sleep did not come to him that night, for as the king paced over his men like a guardian from Zeus himself, Stelios mused over the cryptic words and wondered what they might mean.
There will come a time when laws are meant to be broken…
When he was made lieutenant, Stelios expected the promotion. It came as no real surprise and he accepted the cheers and accolades from his peers in good stride. Damiana had finally given him a son – a fine specimen that he had named Leander, in honor of his king. As he walked into his mother's home, the soft sounds of sobbing had him halting in his tracks. He stood in the middle of the courtyard and cocked his head to the side, a frown lighting his handsome features as he realized it was coming from Calliope's quarters.
His sister had reached marriageable age and many young men, especially his fellow soldiers, had teased him about her beauty and availability. However, Stelios was fiercely protective of his sibling and did not deem any of his comrades suitable enough for her.
"Calliope?" he called out. The sniffles stopped for a moment, and then to his surprise, she cried out,
"Do not come in here, brother!"
What in the god's name…? "Calliope! What is the matter?"
There was a voice, a low gruff voice that belonged to a man, and to Stelios's shock, Adelphos walked out of the room, adjusting his leather sheath and cape with a smug grin on his features. He winked and walked up to the frozen figure of his comrade, leaning close to whisper into his ear.
"She's every bit as good as the rumors say."
Stelios's world went a dull shade of red.
"Ah, but don't be upset with her, Stelios," Adelphos continued amiably enough. "She didn't require much in fees. Just a few gold coins and…ugh!"
"STELIOS!" came the shrill cry from Calliope as she sank her hands into her long dark hair, her eyes filling with tears and madness as she watched her brother plunge his spatha deeper into Adelphos's stomach. "Stop it, Stelios!"
"You swine," Stelios whispered coldly, the fire and rage within his dark eyes enough to burn the clothes right off Adelphos's hunched figure. "You son of a swine!!" he roared, kicking the all but dead man away from him to straddle the body, plunging the sword any and everywhere he could.
Red. It was all he saw. Even as blood bathed his skin, even as men ten times stronger than he, tried to pry him off, all he could see was blood. Hate. Bitterness. Rage. Nothing but red. His sister. His dear precious sister was a whore. Nothing but a cheap whore.
He would kill her next. Slit her throat and hang her carcass in front of the city so every man would see what they had taken from him. How many men had slept with her? Five? Ten? The whole squad?
"AAAAAAAAARGH!!!!" His bellow of fury to the heavens was, however, quickly silenced with a sudden blow to the back of his head. It sent him into a dark abyss where there was mercifully no sound, no people and especially no feeling of humiliation at his sister's erroneous ways.
When he lifted his lashes, it was to find Astinos leaning over him with a look of concern on his youthful features. The heavy stench of dried blood and sweat assailed his senses and he struggled not to gag. His head still throbbed dully and he sat up as slowly and carefully as possible.
"Astinos," he tried to say, surprised to find his voice sounded hoarse, his throat felt dry and swollen. How long had he been out?
"Welcome to the land of the living," Astinos said with a sigh of relief. "Dilios was the one to knock you out when you wouldn't stop…you know."
Stelios grunted at the slicing motion. "How long ago was that?"
"Three days now," Astinos replied, holding out a cup of water to Stelios. "Here, drink this."
He couldn't. It hurt his throat too much and his lips felt chapped and cracked. He tossed the cup away in frustration, ignoring the exasperated look thrown his way.
"You should consider yourself lucky," Astinos was saying as he reached for the cup. "Talk is that they considered throwing you in jail for killing a fellow officer as is the law. But a meeting has been arranged with you and King Leonidas."
Stelios lifted his head at the words, not once frightened of being in jail. Adelphos had asked for it and he had no regrets. However, a meeting with the king…
"Perhaps he will pardon you," Astinos reasoned.
There will come a time when laws have to be broken…
Stelios raised his knees to his chest and stared at the floor in resolute defiance, not daring to hope that the good king would forgive his treason. His crime had been an act of passion, a moment of insanity. Surely the good king would understand that.
"Astinos," he croaked out as the younger solider got up to leave the room.
He battled within himself, not knowing why he was about to say this. Astinos had always been there for him anyway. The young soldier with the baby like features, who was always at the end of many soldiers' pranks and teasing when the captain wasn't around, was really a good person. The only one Stelios could trust, besides the blabber mouth, Dilios. "Thank you."
Astinos looked surprised at the simple words, knowing that Stelios was never one to be so sentimental. Perhaps the blow had done more damage than they had initially thought. Goodness knows, Dilios had been going on and on about him not really using all his strength at the time.
"You're welcome," Astinos finally replied with a small smile. "However, you're to stay here until they send for you. That was the message given to me."
Stelios gave a nod of understanding and remained motionless on the floor of his bedroom, barely moving even as daylight faded into dusk and blades of moonlight eventually peeked through the cracks of his door and wall. His thoughts were nothing but a blank slate, refusing to think of Calliope's stricken features, or Adelphos's smug visage. When the door to his room finally opened, he did not bother to lift his gaze to see his visitor.
"On your feet, Stelios," the captain said with something close to resignation in his tone. He had long given up trying to read whatever went on within his lieutenant's head. "First wash before you present yourself to the king. The stench of blood clings to you like a second cloak."
Stelios rose to his feet and shuffled past his captain. He stepped into the courtyard, noticing that several soldiers including Astinos, all watched in silence as he walked past them. At the well, he stared at his reflection in the greenish liquid, watching the mad and crazed features that seemed to mock him from its depths. With a low growl, he began to wash himself quickly, knowing he had little to no time to keep his king waiting. He was given a cleaner cape and with measured steps, he followed the striding figure of his captain as they made their way to the palace.
On its steps however, they were met by Theron, the king's adviser, who took one look at the sneering soldier and all but spat in disgust.
"So this is the one who deems himself above the law? To kill a member of your own squad is punishable by death, lieutenant, or weren't you taught that?"
There was something about the councilman's face that grated on Stelios's nerve. He rarely hated his fellow Spartans on sight, but for this man, he would make an exception. "I must have missed that lesson, sire," Stelios replied with a light smirk. "Perhaps you'd like to teach me…in private?"
The sound of flesh against flesh was like the crack of a whip in the darkness, and Stelios staggered backwards, holding his aching jaw as blood filled his mouth. He spat out a wad of the red fluid and grinned, the motion that had even the councilman shivering at the grotesque sight. The man looked like a beast on the prowl.
"That's enough, Councilman Theron," came the firm but quiet words from Leonidas as he stepped out of his chambers with his beautiful wife in tow.
"But my king, his insolence…"
"Will be dealt with," Leonidas interrupted firmly, his dark gaze fixed on Stelios as he held up a hand to stop Theron from continuing. "Come, Stelios. Let us talk."
A curt nod from the king had everyone bowing and walking away, allowing Leonidas and Stelios to make their way into the king's chamber. The young lieutenant did his best not to stare at the grandeur of the king's room, the rich cloths of silk and gold that draped the walls or the sweet smell of incense and myrrh that intoxicated the senses. There was an inner chamber still, one that Stelios was sure led to the king's bedroom. He forced himself not to think of what he and the lovely Queen Gorgo did there each night, while that tiny, incessant voice within his mind kept wishing that their laws wouldn't be so strict. He cursed himself for even entertaining that thought.
"I have heard the story of what happened, Stelios," Leonidas began, forcing the younger man to focus his attention on the king himself. "And my councilmen would love nothing more than to leave you in the depths of jail or behead you for your treason. You put me in a difficult position. Tell me why you deserve to remain in my elite force if your temper cannot be controlled?"
Stelios winced at the cold reprimand. He fell to his knees, his gaze transfixed on the smooth and cool stones beneath him. "I pledged allegiance to my king and to Sparta," he began, surprised at how steady and strong his voice sounded. "My crime…my crime is one that is inexcusable but…" He lifted his head to pin fevered depths on his king's passive countenance. "The thought of my sister being used…while my mother lies ill barely several feet away…drove me to madness, sire! I cannot forgive her for what she has done…!"
"Even if she believed she was doing the best to raise money for medicines your mother needed?"
Stelios looked shocked. "Wha…what?"
"An apothecary visited your mother while you were at the barracks, claiming that the medicinal herbs she needed to cure her ailment would be quite expensive to get. Calliope, at her wits end, felt she was doing her part by selling herself to the highest bidder."
The lieutenant couldn't believe his ears. "She could have asked me!" he cried out in anger, frustration and disbelief. "I am her brother!"
"Perhaps she did not want to burden you, Stelios," the king continued in the same quiet tone. There was a look of pity within his eyes now. "You have a family to protect now."
Stelios thought of his wife and child, two people he rarely spent time with. He thought of his mother, who had commanded he return to the barracks, that it was nothing more than a result of the cold weather and she would be well again with some rest. He thought of his sister, imagining her desperate attempts to find money to pay, swallowing her pride and finally resorting to the lowest form of profit. He had been so quick to anger that he had not taken the time to find out the real story.
"Ooooh….ooooh….dear gods…." It was a low moan of suffering ripped from the very depths of his heart as he slapped his hands over his face and crouched in misery before his king, trying to fight back tears of helplessness and agony at his inability to do anything. It would be a sign of weakness – something that was never allowed in Sparta. He was, however, not prepared for the sudden pressure of strong hands upon his shoulder, or the sensation of being pulled against a chest that was as hard as a rock and warm against his wet cheeks. He could hear Leonidas's steady heartbeat. The king's unique scent of sweat and honeysuckle invaded Stelios's senses and for the first time in his life, that steely resolve he took pride in, shattered like fragile glass. He sobbed like a new born babe, his raw tears, bottled up since he was a boy, finally letting go in a torrent that seemed unlikely to stop.
And his king, oh his king held him for as long as he could. Saying nothing – no words of comfort, no words of sympathy, simply holding the young man in an embrace that he hoped would convey his understanding at Stelios's dilemma.
They remained that way for some time, Stelios clutching his king's cape tightly, as the tears finally began to subside while awareness at other sensations – none of which were pain – permeated his fogged senses. Thigh to thigh, groin to groin, torso to torso, he could feel every inch of his king against him and he trembled at the sudden wave of lust that overwhelmed him. Unable to look into the older man's face as an unbearable heat crept up his toes to the roots of his hair, his nipples were hard pebbles of need against his king's, the growing throb in his nether regions causing him to take a hasty step back.
"Perhaps you need the warmth of your woman tonight," the king said in a voice that seemed to drip with liquid fire. It was a tone that had the young soldier shuddering in response, his cheeks flushed at the insinuation as he released Leonidas's cape from his death grip.
"My king…" he stuttered helplessly.
"Say no more, Stelios. I will pardon you this time," Leonidas interrupted with a light grunt, turning away quickly as if he himself was distracted at the sight of the young man before him. "You are a fine soldier and it would be foolish of me to eliminate you when a battlefield awaits your presence. Now wipe your tears, boy and speak not of this moment to anyone."
His eyes widened in shock, unable to believe that he was forgiven for his treachery. Struggling to control his traitorous body and not needing to be told twice, Stelios dried his face with his cape and took a deep breath, feeling much better and more confident than he had ever felt. He bowed lowly to the figure of his king.
"I am forever in your debt, sire," he began, a voice gruff with the depths of his emotion and sincerity. "I vow to serve you until my dying day with no regrets. My life…" He swallowed tightly. "My life is yours."
He was spared a quick glance over the king's shoulder, but the small quirk of those lips was more than enough to have Stelios grinning in pleasure. He left the chambers, light on his feet, ignoring the eager looks that came his way from his comrades, especially Astinos who was now trotting to catch up with Dilios not far behind.
"Come now, Stelios," Astinos asked impatiently. "What did the king say? Are you pardoned?"
"Obviously," Dilios replied with a huff, although his mind was beginning to churn with stories to tell the other soldiers at the barracks. "Otherwise you wouldn't see him grinning like a satisfied cat, would you?"
"Whoo hoo! You lucky dog!" Astinos laughed, trying to wrap his arm around his friend's shoulder, but Stelios was quicker and grabbed the younger man in a head lock, smirking as the captain's son tried to set himself free.
He was given another chance to prove himself, his years of training finally leading him to this point. His admiration, respect and love for his king was one that he was sure his fellow soldiers shared with him, however, Stelios knew that none had the depth of his loyalty and commitment. None had the ability to see beneath the king's stoic countenance, to read between the lines and to feel the king's frustration or anger. There would come a time when his king would need them to 'break a law', to defy the odds and to take a stance – and when that time finally came, Stelios knew he would gladly offer himself as a willing sacrifice.
He believed he had been born for this, born to give up his life for a king descendent from Heracles himself, and besides, what could be more beautiful than dying beside Leonidas in battle?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.