Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue. Pretty please?
For we Spartans, war is not just a way of life. It is how we live. Our hearts beat, our very lifeblood flows for the heat of battle. So it comes as no surprise for me to face my death in battle. The Persians number thousands, far as the eye could see. Their arrows, just as they'd said, blot out the sun, recalling to me another time, when the sky had been masked by flying arrows.
Astinos and I crouched under our shields, viewing the world through a haze of arrows and blood. I gazed upward, wondering if the rain of arrows would ever end. I heard Astinos, shielded beside me, suddenly laugh. I had to turn and stare. "What the hell are you laughing at?" "You had to say it," he laughed. "What?" "Fight in the shade." Staring up at the arrow-filled sky, I had to agree. It was, indeed, very shady.
The joy of that memory, however, is mixed with sadness, tainted by the memory of my friend's death.
We had just finished a long battle. But for us, young and battle-eager, the war was still practically a game. War always seems such, until it affects you. The Persians were either retreating or dead. We had finished the battle back to back, fighting almost as one, much as we always had. Surrounded by that garden of the dead, we congratulated each other. Astinos's father, the Captain, called his name. "Astinos!" he called, "My son!" It was the only exclamation of pride I had ever heard the old man give his son. Astinos was a good fighter, strong and smart, but whatever he did never seemed good enough for his father. So when our Captain called him, crying out his name with pride, it was no wonder that my friend turned, abandoning the battlefield behind him. His face showed almost unbearable pride, just because of his father's small praise.
It was the same expression he would wear at his death. I will always blame myself for not seeing the horseman coming, not stopping it. Later, I would replay the scene over and over in my head, wondering what could've been done. The truth is, it may be that the oncoming horseman offered Astinos what we Spartans call a beautiful death.
The Captain's second, panicked shout, turned his son's head, toward the oncoming horseman. Too late, though. The sword swung down, slow in its fateful swing. It met Astinos's neck, parting his head from his body. His head fell to the ground, still bearing its expression of happiness at his father's praise. His body followed slowly, sword and shield still clutched in his hands. A soldier, even to the death. The battle was ours, but at no small cost.
As my death faces me, I am not afraid. I will die a warrior's death, just as I have always known that I would. The arrows in the sky turn, head downward, for our small band of warriors. Very few of us are left after the long campaign. Arrows head straight for us, singing of our deaths as they descend. Finally, our worthy deaths have come for us. Arrows hit, piercing our bodies as we stand. I am hit, hit by many, many arrows, chest, thighs, arms on fire. But the pain means nothing to a dying warrior. I reach toward my king, fallen to his knees at my side. "My king," I manage around the crushing weight on my chest. The weight of death. "It is an honor to die at your side." He stares at me for a moment, not knowing perhaps, quite what to say. "And it is an honor," he says finally, "To have lived at yours." An honor, indeed, to be addressed so by my king. I cannot speak more, as death is upon me. I think of Astinos, gone before me, and my fellow warriors, long dead. I hope Sparta is not crushed by the oncoming Persians. I wonder if they will sing of us in their battle songs. Of brave Leonidas, and his band of 300 who faced down and nearly defeated the thousands of Persia. The thoughts of glory are banished from my mind as darkness closes in. My king, Leonidas, fallen by my side. Astinos, fallen in a battle before. Both flash through my fading mind. One final thought. It seems that my beautiful death has come for me.
Then all is darkness.