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Authors: Michael Ford

Birth of a Warrior

BOOK: Birth of a Warrior
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Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Also by Michael Ford

For Rebecca

PROLOGUE

Lysander circled his opponent. Each breath scorched his lungs and he could feel his arms being dragged down by the weight of his armour. He blinked away the sweat that stung his eyes.

Demaratos stared back at him, his eyes filled with hate. Lysander swung an arm at his opponent, but Demaratos skipped out of the way and smirked. The spectators let out a raucous cheer.

He's too strong,
thought Lysander.

Lysander scanned the crowd again, looking for his grandfather, Sarpedon. He wasn't there.

Demaratos lunged forward. His fist caught Lysander in the gut and he collapsed to his knees, trying to suck in air. None came. Lysander felt as though he were drowning. Demaratos punched him again, this time in the face. There was no pain, but he toppled sideways, crashing into the sand. He couldn't move.

It was over.

Demaratos lifted his hands in the air and the crowd roared. A figure came forward to offer him the prize. It was
Lysander's cousin, Kassandra. She held a wreath of olive leaves over Demaratos's head. But as she lowered the wreath, it transformed into a leather thong with a red pendant. The Fire of Ares.

‘That's mine!' cried Lysander, but no one listened. No one cared.

The scene changed. Lysander found himself beside a cart that carried a linen-shrouded body. His mother. The grave was to one side of the path, a black hole in the earth. Lysander turned back to the cart, and saw that Orpheus and Leonidas had appeared beside the body. They were here to bury his mother.

Orpheus took the head and Leonidas the feet. Lysander wanted to help, but he stood rooted to the spot, unable to move.

Then the shrouded body twitched.

‘Wait!' shouted Lysander. He tried to stop them from lowering his mother into the grave, but his feet were like ice-cold marble.

The legs of the body were twisting now.

‘She's alive,' shouted Lysander. ‘Can't you see? She's not dead!'

But Orpheus and Leonidas paid no attention. They carried the writhing body to the edge of the grave. Lysander could feel an iciness climbing up through his chest, where his heart thumped with fear. There wasn't long left. Orpheus moved to one edge of the grave and Leonidas to the other. The body of his mother, struggling weakly in their grasp, hung above the
black hole in the ground.

‘Please!' Lysander begged. ‘Don't drop her! She's alive. Please, you're my friends!'

Neither Orpheus nor Leonidas looked up. Lysander's mother disappeared into the blackness.

CHAPTER 1

‘No!' Lysander shouted. He sat bolt upright in bed, his chest heaving with panic.

‘Shut your mouth, half-breed!' hissed Demaratos from the other side of the room. Straining his eyes against the gloom, Lysander could make out the shapes of his fellow students huddled beneath their cloaks. They lay in rows on their mattresses of river rushes, one along either wall of the narrow, low-beamed dormitory.

‘Another nightmare?' mumbled Orpheus sleepily from the bed beside him.

‘Yes,' whispered Lysander.

‘Quiet!' ordered Demaratos. ‘Or I'll give you something to have a nightmare about.'

Lysander lay back on his bed of rushes, waiting for the terror of the dream to seep from his veins.

Wind buffeted the barracks, howling along the walls. Summer was long gone and chill air fell heavily from the mountains. The timbers creaked ominously and
somewhere a hatch banged. Lysander pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders and brought his hand up to rest on the pendant that hung from his neck. The Fire of Ares.

Lysander turned over in his bed, trying to get comfortable. Since the early summer, his life had been transformed. Without the family pendant – the red stone mounted in bronze – Lysander would never have learnt the truth. He would not have discovered that his grandfather, Sarpedon, was one of the most powerful men in Sparta; that his father was not a Helot of the fields, but a Spartan warrior, killed before he was even born. For thirteen years his life had been a lie. But his mother had shared the truth with him in the end.

His new existence wasn't without danger. Lysander would forever be known as the half-breed ‘mothax' who had stood in the way of rebellion and humiliated the Spartans. He had saved his grandfather from the hands of murderous Helots. Lysander had been victorious at the annual Festival Games. But at what cost? His nightmare told him how easily his victory could have turned to defeat.

Burying his head into his cloak, Lysander recalled the second part of his nightmare, a twisted version of his mother's funeral. Two days after his victory at the Games, accompanied by his grandfather Sarpedon and his cousin Kassandra, he had made his way to the family tomb on the southern road out of the city. Orpheus and Leonidas hadn't been there. Nor had
there been any party of hired mourners wailing their dirges to the Gods. The death of a Helot woman didn't merit it. Instead, his mother's body had ridden on a cart pulled by a single mule.

At the grave site, beside the low marble stone that marked his father's resting place, the Helots from his mother's settlement had lowered Athenasia into the ground. Lysander had placed her few possessions on top of the linen: an ivory comb, and a bracelet hung with small iridescent shells.

Now, he felt hot tears on his cheeks and he dug his face further into his cloak, trying to mask his sobs from the rest of the barracks.

‘I miss you,' Lysander whispered into the night. Then he closed his eyes and tried to sleep again, praying that the nightmares would stay away.

Suddenly the quiet dormitory was filled with the sound of pounding feet. Lysander's bed was surrounded by dark shadows – tall black shapes against the wall. One was shorter than the others and stood back a little. Lysander scrambled up the bed and pulled his cloak protectively around his shoulders.

‘What's happening?' he asked, trying to make out faces in the darkness. Strong hands gripped his ankles and hauled him across the floor. Lysander reached out, trying to find something to grab on to. His attackers dragged him by his feet towards the door, the muscles of his back catching on the packed earth. The other students were awake now, craning round in their beds
to see what the commotion was about.

‘What's all the noise?' said a sleepy voice.

But only one student left his bed to help – Lysander's friend, Orpheus. He clambered to his feet and came forward, leaning on his stick.

‘Leave him alone!' he said.

One of the men pushed him roughly to the floor. ‘Crawl back into your bed, cripple!' he spat.

Lysander managed to kick free and scrambled to his knees.

‘Don't touch him!' He threw himself at the soldier, but a foot slammed into his back and the men closed round him again. A hand grabbed the back of his neck, and a coarse hemp sack was pulled over his head. A cord tied the hood down, biting into his flesh.

Complete darkness. The damp smell of the hemp filled his nostrils and he could feel his breathing become quick and shallow as panic flooded him.
What are they going to do to me?
he thought.

Someone punched him in the side of the head and Lysander fell sideways. He collided with another body and that person shouldered him off. Lysander lost his bearings and tripped into something hard – a wall or doorway.

‘He can't even walk straight,' mocked a man's voice.

A final shove sent Lysander out into the cold night air. He stumbled over what must have been the threshold and he fell on to the ground, crying out in pain. He couldn't put his hands out to break his fall and
his head cracked against a rock. Blood trickled down his temple.

‘What do you want?' he said, his hot breath muffled inside the hood.

‘Keep your mouth shut, half-breed!' someone said gruffly.

More than one man took hold of his arms and waist and he was hoisted into the air. His hands touched something warm. Coarse short fur bristled beneath his fingers and an animal smell filled his nostrils. A horse. His legs were tugged into position either side of the beast's back. Feeling the live, twitching animal beneath him brought a cold feeling of dread. Someone mounted in front of him. Unbalanced, Lysander gripped the other rider's waist. There was a grunt and the horse moved forward.

As they rode, Lysander buried his head against the back of his kidnapper. His mind reeled. Where were they taking him?

He wasn't sure how long they rode for, but as the horse juddered to a halt, Lysander's mind suddenly cleared. If he was going to be killed now, he would meet his death bravely. Hands pulled him off the back of the horse and he thumped to the ground on his side. His breath escaped him and panic filled his chest. He tried to suck in some air. The cord was untied and the hood whipped away.

He could see little at first: the stony ground, a few bushes and the dark silhouettes of cloaked figures. A
blow to his ear dizzied him, and he sank to the ground.

‘Hold him down!'

The voice was distant. Nothing happened.

‘I said, hold him down!'

The sole of a sandal pressed his face into the dirt. The earth tasted damp and gritty against his lips. Lysander didn't struggle. He was defenceless. At any moment the blade of a sword would end his life.

It didn't come.

His eyes had time to adjust to the faint moonlight. At the edges of his vision, Lysander saw thick swathes of cloud sweeping through the blue-black sky. The person pinning Lysander down shifted his weight, relieving the pressure on Lysander's head. He turned his neck and managed to glimpse the face of his attacker. For a moment the dizziness returned.

This didn't make any sense.

The figure standing above him looked back. His sandy hair was messy, as though he too had been woken from his bed. He stared at Lysander, his eyes wide with fear. Then the boy shot a glance back at the other men.

‘Sorry,' he said, unable to look back down at Lysander.

It was Timeon.

CHAPTER 2

Timeon was Lysander's friend. The boy who had come to the barracks to serve as his slave. They'd known each other for as long as Lysander could remember.

‘Why?'

Timeon didn't answer. Something wasn't right. A red graze scored his cheekbone.

‘I didn't want to …' he began, his lip trembling, but he was yanked away. Lysander could see some of his attackers more clearly now. The moonlight reflected in their eyes as they stared at him. Their features were set stern like granite. The black cloaks told Lysander exactly who they were. The Krypteia. The Hidden Ones. The Spartan death squads who terrorised the lives of innocent Helots and killed without mercy.

Another familiar face came into view. Diokles. Since the night of the Festival Games, the barracks tutor had given Lysander a wide berth, but he had always suspected that revenge would come. There was no way Diokles would forget the humiliation of being at the
mercy of a Helot – he was missing several teeth where a thresher had caught him across the jaw. Diokles crouched beside Lysander and cocked his head to one side. Lysander struggled to hold his gaze as the tutor leant forward. Lysander knew that Diokles was one of the Krypteia.

BOOK: Birth of a Warrior
7.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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