"Sire, any message…?" Dilios asked tentatively, looking into the eyes of his king, whom he knew he would never see again.
"For the queen." Leonidas finished the question, his voice heavy and resigned. His had went up towards his chest and came to rest on his wolf's tooth necklace. He gave it a pull and removed it, placing it in Dilios's hand. "None that need be spoken," he whispered.
Later that night, Dilios could not bring himself to sit amongst his comrades for the shame of being chosen to return home while the others were to stay and fight and most assuredly die. He sat far from the fire against the face of the stone quarry, his back to the other men, his hand over his newly empty left eye socket, thanking the gods for gracing him with a spare.
He suddenly heard the rustling of footsteps approaching, coming to a halt near him on his blind side. He turned his head swiftly to see Stelios taking a seat beside him. For a while, Stelios said nothing, his hands folded and his eyes downcast. Then, finally, he spoke, "Dilios…you are…returning to Sparta…"
"By the king's command," Dilios interjected immediately. "If it were my choice, I would stay here to fight and die at your side. It has ever been my wish to…"
"My friend…" Stelios said gently, placing a firm hand on his comrade's shoulder, "I have not come here to blame you, nor give you cause for regret or grief. I ask only that you hold your tongue and hear what I say."
Dilios nodded and turned to face Stelios.
Stelios folded his hands again, shut his eyes and inhaled sharply, held it, exhaled. Then, slowly, "The king asked you to deliver a token to his wife, the queen, did he not?"
Dilios looked up, a bit surprised. "What business is it of yours?"
Stelios ignored his friend's tone and continued. "What I have really come to ask is…would you deliver a message to my wife as well?" He looked up from his hands to meet Dilios's gaze, "Though I've always expected that I shall never see her again, there are things that I would rather not leave unsaid." Dilios beheld in Stelios's eyes something he had never seen before: desperation.
"My friend, you need not ask," he replied solemnly. "What is your message?"
Stelios's countenance relaxed, and as he lifted his gaze towards the night sky, Dilios thought he saw a the faintest of smiles shape his lips.
"Tell her…" he began, "tell her that I would forsake all honor, all glory in dying on the battle field if I could return to her, and die instead a wretched old man who had never seen battle, so long as she was by my side. That I would trade my name standing the test of time and history for eternity for just one more night in her arms…" his voice faltered, and he paused, his eyes scanning the sky as if what he wished to say was written in the stars.
Dilios stared at his comrade in disbelief, for he had never dreamed of hearing such a confession from such a fiercely proud man as Stelios.
Stelios cleared his throat and continued, "Tell her that I choose to die tomorrow rather than return to her warm embrace not for glory or honor, but for her. For her life, and the lives of our sons; so that they may be saved from the Persian hordes that threaten or borders."
When he turned back to meet Dilios's half-blind gaze, his eyes were glistening with tears that decades of training would never allow to fall.
"Dilios, tell her I love her," he whispered at last.
Dilios nodded firmly. He understood now. All of the renown in the world would have done precious little to comfort Stelios's grieving widow. Stelios remained, even in making his final request on this earth, unselfish.
"Consider it done, my friend."
The next morning, as Dilios set out on his long march back home, he turned for one final look at his brethren, and he wondered again, and not for the last time, why his life had been spared when all of those brothers, sons, fathers, and husbands marching towards glorious death had, each of them, something to live for.