The armoured man began counting his earnings, 'it seems I might live off this for a few months.' He was about to step out of the office of Cadmus, a Boeotarch of Thebae, "Oh, one more thing, Athanas." Athanas sighed and spun on his heels, he'd been hoping for a break. He looked around the room, although small, it was lavishly adorned. 'A little too gaudy for my taste,' he thought. Cadmus appeared to be scanning a scroll that Athanas had not seen there earlier. He waited patiently for the old Boeotarch to finish reading.
"This is troubling," Cadmus mumbled to himself. "I would like you to go with Perikles, and his captains to rescue Pamphilos from Patrae, in the lands of Achaea. He was captured whilst escorting a Thebaean ambassador to Tegea, in an ambush by Patraean hoplitae. Only two others survived the encounter and reported back an hour ago."
At this moment, there was knock on the door.
"Enter." A tall and musculature hoplitae walked into the room and stood beside Athanas.
"Khaire, Perikles. This is Athanas, I am sending him with you to Patrae. I would like him to report back to me about what or who he encounters there."
"Khaire, Athanas" said Perikles. "I'll be glad to have you along."
"Khaire, Perikles. It will be an honour." Athanas said, looking up at the impressive figure. A bronze, korinthian kranos sat atop his curly haired head, making him look even taller. To top it off, a dark orange and white striped horse hair crest, was affixed to the kranos from left to right and almost brushed the ceiling. The worn and dented bronze cuirass he wore, was engraved with a winged Pegasus, that reared up at those who faced it. Looking at his pteriges that protected his thighs, he saw shining bronze studs adorning them. Finally, wrapped around his feet were leather sandals, below bronze greaves.
Athanas knew of this man but had never met him before now.
"What happened to the ambassador?"
"He was killed, by mistake. It is my understanding that Pamphilos has been taken, in his stead."
"When do we leave?" Perikles asked Cadmus.
"Within the hour… Dismissed."
Athanas left the ecclesia and headed home through the bustling streets of Thebae. The people of his neighbourhood waved to him as he neared his modest home.
He would need to pack enough rations and probably an extra chiton. Quickly rummaging through his stores, he picked up a few pieces of flat bread and filled a small pouch with dried figs and a couple of handfuls of seeds. He knew this may not last the entire expedition, but he had a few tricks up his sleeve to deal with that. Entering his bedroom, he packed two russet red chitons and as a last-minute thought, strapped a couple of akontia to the aspis on his back.
Athanas met the rest of the men that'd be going to Patrae at the main gate in to and out of the polis of Thebae, the imposing walls cast shadows over the awaiting hoplitae.
Perikles sat, leaning against the wall, while two men stood, talking beside him. Another two hoplitae stood next to the guard hut, speaking with the gate guards. It looked to Athanas like the whole team consisted of captain.
Perikles, who would lead the small unit asked them to gather round. "I'd firstly like to welcome Athanas to our merry little band. He is joining us, by the order of Cadmus."
A hoplitae with long, black and wavy hair, winked at Athanas.
"Lastly, we'll be travelling in a defensive formation, since we - yet again - expect to encounter enemy patrols beyond the border of Korinth."
"Alexios, take point. Then I and Lysander and then you," he turned to Athanas, "will watch our backs. Koradelas and Hermokrates, you two cover the flanks."
Alexios led the way, his wavy hair billowing in the wind.
The first day of travelling to Achaea was uneventful. They marched into Korinth, via polis' and homesteads. No one really paid much attention to them and thankfully they ran into no trouble.
Perikles eventually called for them to setup camp, away from the road and not too far from a stream. It was almost sundown.
Athanas watched curiously, as Perikles left the site, before he went to catch fish at the stream.
Once in the slow running water he stood and waited patiently for a while. He could barely feel his feet, when he slowly raised his short spear and struck at a fish swimming around his ankles. "Got you!" A small catfish was stuck on the end of his doru. He slid it into a canvas pouch at his waste, listening solemnly to its dying thrashes. He would need to catch plenty more fish to feed the six of them, so once again he would wait.
He got back to the camp, as the sun was falling behind the horizon, to see a small, yet inviting fire going strong and shelters erected. "One for each of us," he said, gesturing into his pouches. They thanked him, as he tossed a fish to each of them.
Not long after, Perikles returned and joined those eating bread and cooking fish over the fire. They chatted quietly amongst themselves, until one by one they found somewhere nearby to sleep.
Athanas woke with a start, Perikles stood in the centre of the group, hitting his doru against his aspis.
"Brother, what are you doing?" Lysander said, over the noise. He stood and snatched the doru from Perikles' grasp.
"Just something I acquired from Cadmus," he said, laughing.
Athanas removed his hands from his ears, glad the noise had stopped. The rest of the troop also looked rather relieved.
Once they were dressed and ready to move out, Alexios set off at a quick pace. After three days of this, they had arrived at the edge of a dense forest, within the border of Achaea.
"Be very cautious now, Alexios. Slow and steady," said Perikles.
The group had only walked a short distance, when Alexios motioned for them to halt.
I can hardly see anything, Athanas squinted. Just then he heard the very faint sound of carefully placed footsteps. "Behind us!"
"No," said Perikles. "Formation Omega!" They formed a ring and locked shields.
An arrow thudded off Athanas' aspis. 'That was too close.' It was an ambush. How could they know we were coming?
Arrows and akontia flew past them from every direction. "Agh," Hermokrates stumbled out of the circle, an akontia protruding from his back. They moved to cover and close formation around him.
When a unit of light hoplitae finally came into view, Athanas drew an akontia, his arm trembled. Unable to steady his aim, he missed his target. It was a futile gesture. "There are too many of them."
"After the next arrow volley, get ready to run." Lysander backed up quickly, picked Hermokrates up off the ground and slung him over his shoulder. The whistle of arrows ceased. "Now."
A group of enemies spotted what was happening and ran to block their retreat. Alexios and Athanas ran ahead to meet them. The unarmoured peltastai - akontia throwers - and toxotai - archers - were cut down in a matter of seconds.
Lysander tripped on a fallen branch and dropped Hermokrates. "Just run, leave me!" Hermokrates shouted, pain etched on his face.
"We will come back for you," Lysander shouted, as he ran to catch up with the others.
Once they reached the edge of the forest, the rain of arrows ended, the ambush seemed to be over.
"We'll set up camp for the night, to recover." Perikles pointed to a rocky outcrop. "We won't risk going back through those woods tonight."
They wondered around the bluff searching for a suitable area.
"We'll sleep in there." Alexios gestured to a small cave in the rock face.
Torches were then lit and placed around the edges of the cave before Perikles started making a small fire.
Lysander threw down his equipment and walked back out the cave.
Athanas watched him leave and wondered whether he should follow. Perikles looked back at Athanas and spoke, "Don't worry, he just needs to cool off a bit."
Athanas got as comfortable as he could on the stone floor and cleaned and sharpened his xiphos - sword.
"Get some rest now, you three." Light flickered across Perikles' face, from the flames of the fire, "we won't be stopping tomorrow night, to make up for the time we've lost.
Athanas slowly opened his eyes, it took him a second to remember where he was. He watched the embers of the previous night's fire for a moment, before getting up. Perikles stirred, but the others were still sleeping. Wrapping his bed cloak tightly around him, he walked outside of the cave and was immediately struck, by the beauty of the rising sun. Peeking above a forest that stretched into the distance, it pierced the murky, morning sky. He closed his eyes and felt the heat from the sun warm up his face. He listened to the waking of animals all around, birds sang, crickets chirped, and in the distance, a wolf howled… For a moment, he was back on his farm with his wife and new born son, watching a sunrise over the polis of Thebae. He opened his eyes and with a sigh, re-entered the cave. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw Perikles pick up his aspis and doru and with a grin on his face, he clashed them together. Athanas placed his hands on his ear, just in time. Groans and moans came a moment later.
Alexios did not stir, but opened his eyes, "Good morning," he said, cheerily and stretched. Clearly Alexios was by now, more used to Perikles' morning habits than the others were.
The small expedition force reached the capital of Achaea in the early hours of the next morning. They stashed their non-essential equipment not far from their current location overlooking the polis.
"We'll climb the wall and take out any guards, silently." whispered Perikles. His resolve gave Athanas confidence. "Which one of you brought the ladder?"
Lysander stepped forward and threw the hooked ladder to the top of the wall, when it landed with a clink he pulled on it, to make sure it was secure. They waited apprehensively for a guard to pass by, before climbing. Once they reached the top, Perikles pointed to two of the taller buildings in the polis. "We'll split up and search both of those."
Athanas had been paired up with Koradelas and so they stealthily made their way through the dark streets. Avoiding guards where they could and dispatching them when they couldn't. Their designated building didn't look like a prison. Athanas was about to tell this to Koradelas, but Koradelas had begun to pick the lock on the door. "We should use this opportunity to gather some Intel."
They both closed their eyes to help them adjust to the darkness. Two guards sat at a desk, half asleep and didn't notice the two hoplitae who quickly and quietly knocked them unconscious.
After searching a few of the rooms and finding nothing of any use, they discovered a stairway. Athanas took one of the torches that had been set into a wall bracket and made his way up the stairs, with Koradelas keeping an eye behind them.
"You take the one on the left," Koradelas whispered, as two doors appeared to block their way.
Athanas tip-toed up to the door on the right, expectantly he opened it, but nothing could have prepared him for what he'd laid his eyes on. "Koradelas, in here!"
"…It's Hermokrates," he said, as his partner joined him.
It was worse than he could have imagined. Chained up to a wall, covered in bruises and wearing nothing but filthy rags, wasn't the worst of it. The worst part was that his fingernails were missing.
Hermokrates opened his eyes when Koradelas began unlocking his shackles. "It looks worse than it feels," he mumbled, seeing the look on Athanas' face. Athanas and Koradelas placed Hermokrates' arms over their shoulders.
'How could they do something like this?!'
With their support, he managed to walk out of the cell and led them to the room where his equipment and weapons had been locked up.
Hermokrates donned a light-weight, white linothorax with a grunt of pain, hung his scabbard and akontia holster over his shoulders and sheathed his xiphos. If he was in any more pain, he wasn't letting it show.
"Where are the others?"
"They went to the prison to look for Pamphilos and yourself," Koradelas said.
The three slowly made their way to the building that was, undoubtedly a prison.
The large door had been left open and Athanas could just make out a couple of bodies sprawled out on the floor. They carefully stepped over the dead, avoiding a pool of blood and heard the quick slice of a man's throat being cut. Around the next corner stood Lysander, Perikles and Alexios, the latter wiping his makhaira on a rag.
Relief showed on the brothers faces, seeing that Hermokrates was alive. They hugged him tightly, one after the other.
Lysander picked up a torch off the floor, that had been dropped by one of the guards they'd killed. They continued to the holding cells in a silent manner. Though their footsteps quietly echoed along the dark and narrow hallway. Inmates stirred as the torch was held up to the barred windows in the cell doors. The next cell he checked contained a man with a familiar face, his hair and unkempt beard streaked with grey.
"Koradelas," called Lysander.
Koradelas, once again took his pins out of a small pouch at his waste and got to work on the lock.
The man opened his eyes at the sound of the lock clicking open. Pamphilos jumped to his feet when Perikles entered the cell, but fell to his knees, "Thank the gods you're here." He rasped. "Thank you."
An alarm sounded and guards began to yell in the distance. Koradelas ran to the cell block door and bolted it shut.
Perikles lowered his kranos. "Hermokrates, stay with Pamphilos," he said, his voice carried clear through the bronze helmet.
Lysander and Alexios placed Pamphilos on the floor.
The six, able-bodied hoplitae then formed a shield wall across the corridor, raising their doru over their aspides.
By the time they were ready, guards were pounding on the door. Suddenly the banging stopped and the alarm went silent. A moment later the door rattled on its hinges with massive thud. Athanas and Koradelas shared a nervous look, while Alexios and Lysander looked at each other and laughed and struck their shields. 'What am I doing here?' Athanas shook off his nerves and lowered his helmet over his face.
The door thundered a few more times before the bolt holding snapped and landed on the ground with a clink. The guards streamed through and straight onto spear tips. Around twenty of them had tried to rush into the small space at once. Those in the second rank tripped over the bodies on the floor and joined them there, permanently.
Athanas and Koradelas threw their akontia, at such close range it easily pierced the light armour of the guards, who fell to join the growing pile of bodies. Alexios stepped out of formation and pierced the throat of a guard in the doorway, then took his place, back in the shield wall.
"Stay in formation." Perikles ordered.
The rest of the guards composed themselves as their captain entered the room. The bodies that were in reach, he ordered to be removed. Their reluctance showed as they hesitantly did so. When the floor was almost clear, he told three guards to form up across the corridor. "Forward!" he said, finally ordering the attack after hesitating for some time. Three more guards took their places in the second rank.
Perikles ran at the guard in the centre, with his brothers either side of him. Shield clashed against shield, he drew his makhaira, a short-curved blade suitable for close quarter's situations. He dodged the doru of the guard in the second rank as it came at him and stabbed his immediate opponent in the back. They were face to face, he heard the man's final breath, slowly escape from his lungs. Moments later Alexios and Lysander had finished off their opponents. Perikles avoided another jab from the guard now in front of him and pulled his Makhaira free of the dead man. Three more guards entered the room and formed up. Perikles sheathed his makhaira and drew his spear and in the same motion slashed the guard in the shoulder. The guard was too slow to keep up with Perikles, who got in a piercing blow before the guard backed away, clutching his thigh. All Athanas could do at this time was watch in awe, as Perikles swiftly dealt with anyone that approached him.
The guard captain's bronze cuirass shone in the torchlight as he stepped up to face Lysander. He lunged in quickly and stabbed at Lysander before he could get his aspis up. The doru knocked Lysander off his feet but hadn't pierced his linothorax of bronze scale armour. The captain thrust at Lysander with all his strength, but Perikles redirected the man's doru with his own, and it struck the ground above Lysander's Kranos. The captain quickly recovered and jumped back. Again, he made a quick lunge, this time at Perikles.
Perikles stepped aside and used the captain's forward momentum to trip him up and onto Lysander's raised doru. The shock in his eyes faded, as blood dripped from his mouth. Lysander rolled out from under him and yanked his spear out of the man's back. The rest of the guards withdrew, now that their captain was dead.
"Are you good, brother?" Perikles said, and hit Lysander on the back.
"Just knocked the wind out of me a bit."
Alexios and Lysander once again helped Pamphilos to his feet and the group hurriedly made their way out of the building.
Quietly and carefully avoiding search patrols, they walked back to the wall where the ladder was. Athanas climbed up first and waited at the top to help, as both Pamphilos and Hermokrates were having some trouble manoeuvring up and down the ladder.
Back at the equipment stash Perikles wrapped his heavy cloak around Pamphilos, as the cold, early morning air sent him shivering. "Let's get back to Thebae."
Athanas felt particularly paranoid this time around. He jumped at the rustling of a rabbit, escaping into the shrubs, the scurrying of a fox, into its den and the cawing of a crow, that stood tall on a tree branch, observing the passers-by with its large, golden eyes.
During the second day's march from Patrae, he had looked behind himself for what felt like the thousandth time. He eventually did spot pursuers in the distance. 'They must have tracked us.'
"They're not far behind us now," he called ahead to Perikles.
It seemed to Athanas that perikles did not intend on making the same mistake twice as he ordered, "Fire at will!"
Hermokrates and Pamphilos were handed javelins to throw at the incoming enemy. The seven men turned about and threw their akontia towards the approaching enemies. Athanas' projectile missed its target completely and landed in a shrub. The shrub yelped, and a figure fell out of it and to the ground. Surprised, Athanas yelled, "They're trying to flank us."
The woods were too sparse here, the enemy did not have enough cover for a surprise, flank attack. A javelin from Pamphilos hit one of the attackers in the chest, who flew off his feet from the force.
Athanas looked on in awe, at the skill of the injured, old man with an akontia.
When the Patraeans were closer, Perikles ordered them to form a shield wall. There were four of them left, he bashed one of them in the face with his shield, it came away smeared in blood. The man put his hands up to his broken nose, dropping his equipment in the process and ran away.
Lysander had managed to stab his opponent straight through the knee, he screamed in pain falling to the ground. Blood gushed from his wound, turning the grass red.
The final two hoplitae turned away from the sheild wall and withdrew, carrying their fallen comrade with them. Pamphilos pulled the akontia from the dead body and was about to throw it at the retreating figures, when Perikles intervened. "Leave them be." Pamphilos nodded and lowered his arm.
Pamphilos panted, his chest rising and falling with each breath. He rotated his shoulder to remove a kink and handed the akontia back to Alexios. "I need to rest."
"Alexios, scout ahead and find somewhere suitable to set up camp." Perikles helped Pamphilos to the ground. "I don't think they'll be back any time soon. We can rest here for now."
Athanas, brow furrowed, and lips pursed, handed Pamphilos a water canteen. "Take this, I have another."
"Thank you, young man." He drank deeply.
After a few more days of slow travel, the pemphas reached the crest of a ridge. Athanas' shoulders slumped, the walls of Thebae were in view. His stomach rose and fell slowly, a stream of condensation escaping his mouth.