Authors: Camille Oster
Tags: #romance, #love, #ancient, #historical, #greek, #slave, #soldier, #greece, #sparta, #spartan, #athens, #athenian
Truth and Sparta
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
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Sparta 424 BC
through fields, over hills and along roads to make her way back to
the village where she was born and raised. She noted the different
landscapes as she made the long journey home. Her family worked the
fields on the estate of the Menares family and she had lived with
her family until her wedding day roughly a year ago. She hoped her
father would accept her back. He didn’t know she was coming, but
she knew in her heart that they would not turn her away. She would
be in trouble if he did; she would have to beseech anyone to take
her in, but it wouldn’t come to that, she was sure.
father could use the extra pair of hands, the barley harvest was
coming up soon and they needed as much help as they could get,
being just Chara’s parents and her brother. Surely that would be
more important than the embarrassment brought on by her
around and tried to find some bearing, she wasn’t entirely sure she
was walking entirely in the right direction as she had only really
been to this part of Messenia once—the day she was married and
driven away to her new husband’s family. Now she only had her
instincts to guide her along.
She’d slept in
an orchard and continued walking as soon as the sun returned in the
morning. There had been plenty to eat along the way as long as she
stayed out of sight. She passed orchards with olives, dates,
grapes, beans and other vegetables, even an apple orchard, but its
fruit wasn’t ripe.
She had gotten
along sufficiently well with her husband’s family, but they’d grown
suspicious of her as her husband had grown ill, and they chased her
away when he died in case she had brought the bad omen to them. Her
inability to produce a single child had been a severe mark against
her even before his illness.
It was close
to dusk when she arrived at the modest home where she’d lived all
her life except this last year. Things looked very much the same,
she thought as she waited for her family to return to their small
mud brick house. Their dog greeted her first and it was lovely to
see the old dog that followed her father to the fields every single
So you are back?” her father said when he arrived.
Peracili died,” she said and waited for her father to give an
indication of his intent. “Fever.”
No, just a fever. A small injury that didn’t heal.”
That is unfortunate,” the weathered man said as he considered
her. “You better go inside then; it will be dark before long. Don’t
want to be caught out after dark.”
Yes father,” she said and followed her mother inside. She was
expected to help with the cooking—a task she didn’t mind. It was so
lovely to be back with her family, and she was grateful that they
didn’t reject her due to her disgrace. Her father sat close to the
fire and sighed as the weight came off his knees.
They say the Oracle has foretold of a further return of the
pest,” he said as he began mending a wooden tool.
I didn’t see any signs on the way,” Chara
We are more protected out here. The Athenians suffer very
hard. It seems to have returned almost every year of
back into her old life like she had never been away. Her brother
was bigger and taller having blossomed into a young man from the
skinny boy he’d been was the last time she’d seen him.
talk about her time with Peracili or her distinct lack of
productivity after a year of marriage. Month after month her
bleeding had come. It wasn’t something she could hide and the
reproach in her mother in law’s face only grew as time passed.
It wouldn’t be
long before everyone nearby heard about her return, and they would
likely draw the correct conclusion. Her marriage prospects would be
limited having already proved herself defective. There was nothing
she could do about it, just get on with helping her parents.
with relief at being home going about her familiar mornings
chores—feeding the chickens, gathered water and tended the goats.
In the afternoon, she helped her father in the fields, tended the
orchards or picked grape leave shoots. There was never a shortage
of things that needed doing.
activities didn’t alleviate her worry about the future. Growing up,
she’d always imagined her wedding and the prospects of being
carried away to start a family with a lovely man. It was always
something to hope for, to work toward. That was all gone now and
she couldn’t see a path ahead for herself other than working on her
parents crops for the rest of her life.
Chara, it is surprise to see you back,” Panos—a neighbor from
the village—said. Chara smiled at the man she had known all her
life, but still felt uncomfortable as she stood there beside her
My husband died of a fever.”
I am sorry to hear that.”
What brings you over here, Panos?” her father
Menares had decreed that we are to build a bridge.”
We know nothing of bridge building.”
The old man seems to think that he needs one.”
Getting too old to ride his horse?”
Probably,” Panos said with derision. “But as he had decreed
it, we must comply.” Chara knew Menares was not past whipping
people if he didn’t get his way, and he didn’t care that it was
harvest time, when they could not be spared to do such work—but
they had no choice. The Spartiate family owned most of the fields
in this area, their family villa was not far away—a large estate
filled with the things that the rich Spartan citizens had,
including a vast complex of houses, horses and servants. Chara had
been there a few times when they had to drop their harvests off
there. She had never been inside the house, but had seen the senior
Menares man on occasion. The only son had been away for military
training long before she had any recollection of him or the
environment around her. She had only seen him once or twice that
went to discuss at length how they were going to deal with the
harvest as well as this request to build a bridge to make the old
man’s ride more comfortable. It would mean long hours and they
would have to work on the bridge well into the night, by the light
of fires. It would be more risky, but the Spartans rarely cared if
the Helots had to take risks.
He can just wait until we are done with the harvest,” Chara’s
brother Doros said after watching the conversation
Quiet boy,” her father said.
The harvest is more important. Everyone will starve if the
harvest doesn’t come in. If it gets spoilt, people aren’t going to
accept starvation because some old man wants to build a bridge
where none is needed. The old man can wait.”
I said quiet boy,” her father repeated more sternly. Doros
took offence and he stormed off in a huff. Chara was not used to
seeing her brother so confrontational—this was something
Her father and
Panos gave each other meaningful looks and continued discussing how
they were going to build this bridge. The Spartan would have to
provide the wood, they decided. Wood was expensive and good wood
wasn’t readily available as it had to be brought in from the
Chara went to
seek out her brother who was sitting at the far side of the
They comply with anything that spews out of that senile man’s
head. It’s harvest time, we cannot go run after some fool’s errand.
We should be absolutely killing ourselves because some old man
decrees he wants something. It’s not right. Why are they just
taking it, why doesn’t anyone just tell him he can’t have
You know why Doros, Menares has no qualms making people suffer
if he doesn’t get what he wants. Father has experienced that
before, you have seen his scars.”
He is just one old man, we are many.”
We are farmers and they are soldiers, that is just the way it
We are the ones that belong here, not them—and we outnumber
them. They might have skills, but we have numbers.”
Doros, you know what happens every time we try,” Chara said
with exasperation. “They are brutal in their retribution. It’s not
Our freedom is worth it, Chara. Father has just grown too used
to his servitude. The Spartans are weaker than ever—now it the
No Doros, you will only get yourself killed. It would crush
mother, please don’t do anything stupid.”
I’m not stupid, Chara, but I am not a quivering mess of fear
either. It is time for change. You know the Spartans are getting
more brutal every year, there is only so much we can take and they
need to learn that. We need to be rid of them once and for
You need to lose this anger, Doros.”
Or maybe you need to find yours,” he accused.
The work in
the field was backbreaking, but she was used to it, she’d been
doing it as long as she could remember—bending, cutting, placing.
The harvest required all their time and there were too many chores
for just the four of them. She was happy that she could take some
of the burden off her mother who was suffering a bit with arthritic
home around midday and prepared food for the rest of the family
still working on the fields, getting through the harvest of the
barley as fast as they could. Her return signalled the time to take
a break and they all sat down on the cart full of barley.
It didn’t take
long before noises could be heard coming from over the hill, the
light clanging of metal against metal. Something was definitely
It’s a garrison,” her father said. She could feel the tension
rise in her father as he said it. “They’re coming through. They
must be returning from up north.” Chara had never seen a garrison.
“Don’t interact with them, if they pay us attention, I want you to
go, do you hear? Quietly walk away so no one will notice. You too,
murderous, but Chara knew he would comply with their father’s
wishes. Her brother might be unhappy with their situation, but he
wasn’t stupid enough to take on a whole Garrison. That would get
them all killed—just annoying a Spartan was sufficient for that
fate it seemed.
where they were as the garrison made it over the hill and started
walking through the field, flattening their crop in the process.
There must have been close to eighty men, but not all of them were
soldiers, there were their servants as well—Helots that had been
taken very young to serve Spartan boys of similar ages.
men didn’t acknowledge Chara and her family in any way as they
passed. Some of them glanced over at the small group of peasants
tending their field, but that was all. They were all fit and
muscular with bare heads and crimson cloaks. They marched in
uniform, quickly making their way through the field. Their tunics
were dirty and some were torn. They had obviously seen battle. The
servants carried most of the armor and weapons, and also tended to
the injured in the carts following the main garrison.