The old man’s sons lay dead at his feet. He would be next, followed swiftly by his wife and young daughter. But he would sell his family dearly. He stared down the group of malignant youngsters, all children of noble houses. It was the time of the Krypteia. There was no escape.
The youths taunted the old man over his sons.
Old? He was only ten or fifteen years their senior. His sons had fought well, the Spartans only killing them after having themselves collected fearsome wounds. And now, as the youngsters cheered, laughing, it was the father’s turn.
His wife and daughter cowered behind him in the doorway of their home. The little girl, no more than five years of age, stood, terrified, peeping out from behind her mother’s skirts. She kept looking toward her brothers as they lay in the dust. Why wouldn’t they get up? The sounds of fighting reached them from all quarters of the village, thickening the air with fear. So much blood, soaking the ground, the sweet, metallic tang in her nostrils. She looked up at her mother. She was also shaking, and could not tear her eyes away from Papa. Why wouldn’t her brothers get up? They looked like the chickens or pigs that Papa would occasionally slaughter for food. Were her brothers going to be food? She wailed in fear, feeling her mother shivering as much as she.
One of the teenagers, smiling with glee and menace, moved to-ward the man, thrusting at him with his xiphos as his fellows closed in. The man quickly stepped aside, outside the youngster’s lunge, and grabbed his sword wrist, turning himself to face the boys coming at him from behind. He sharply struck his first attacker with his elbow as he twisted the wrist, disarming the boy. He stepped to the side, retrieving the fallen blade, pulling the boy along as a shield, hearing him grunt as his fellows mistakenly stabbed their daggers into their comrade.
The boy fell. One down, the man thought.
He turned, blade now in hand, facing the attackers, and ready to open their bellies. But they were faster. One of the assailants brought up his knife en passant, cutting through the tendon of the old man’s upper thigh. He fell heavily. The boys mocked the old Helot as they moved in to finish him off.
“Papa…? PAPA!” Was he going to be dead, too? Like Pallas and Athenades?
The youths turned as they heard the little girl’s cry.
The woman, behind whom the child was trying to hide, screamed. She snatched up a fallen dagger, and leapt at them. Her daughter, wide-eyed with terror, stood just behind the doorposts of their house.
She wailed for her parents, calling for her mother to come back.
The woman reached her first target, slashing an ugly wound across his chest. Spinning quickly, she opened a gash in a second fellow’s thigh.
Far from being frightened, the boys laughed anew. They closed in about her and overwhelmed her quickly, throwing her roughly to the ground. Before she could regain her breath, they tore at her clothing, stripping her naked, while continuing to punch and kick her. The girl child, crying pitiably for her mother, stood frozen by the house’s entrance, too terrified to move. Her legs trembled be-tween paralysis and flight, wanting to run to her mother, to bring her back into the house.
“MAMA! MAMA! COME BACK!”
What she saw next, she would never forget, for her mother did not die quickly.
She tried to look away, to pretend this wasn’t happening. But she could not.
Only when the young men had finished with the woman did they cut her throat.
The girl howled in despair, calling out for her family.
The young men next turned their attention to the screaming child, and made to kill her as well. But their leader stayed their hand.
“No. Take her back with us.”
The child saw the Spartans come for her. She fled into the house, frantically looking for a safe place to hide. She ran to the room she shared with her mother and father, and grabbed her beloved Alala, her stuffed wolf-cub. She remembered when her father had brought home the scraps of fine skins and linens, and her mother had then sewn the little puppy for her, to protect her from the shadows at night, and her brothers had helped her name it. And now, Alala was all she had left.
The little girl tried to hide, but one of the young men found her, and caught her. She struggled mightily, shrieking for her parents, still clutching her stuffed wolf-cub. She desperately cast her eyes back to her family, now lying still and bloodied on the ground. If only she could rouse them!
Please get up! Oh, please get up! DON’T LET THEM TAKE ME AWAY!
The man carrying her readjusted his grip on her, clamping a blood-soaked hand over her mouth, to silence the child. Her mother’s blood. The smell filled her head. She gripped Alala even more fiercely, knowing that her little wolf-cub was now the only one left to protect her.
The child stood in a receiving hall, hard by the kitchens in a grand house. She had only the clothes she had been wearing, and her stuffed cub, Alala. Her eyes were large and red from crying. She stood shivering. Several tall, severe ladies stood clustered around her, appraising her value as livestock.
“The young men that brought her say her family were all good fighters,” one of the women was saying. “Her father actually killed one of our lads, and her mother leapt upon them when her man fell.”
The speaker, an old woman called Megaera, unceremoniously turned the child this way and that, looking at her frame. “Hmph. She’s good-looking, and sturdy. She ought to do well enough as a kitchen slave.”
“Actually, she’s of the right age. We might want to make her a personal slave to the young mistress when she begins her agoge,” another woman said.
“But what shall we do with her until then, Maia?” Megaera asked. “She’s a bit young yet to be of much use to—”
“We’ll think of something,” a third woman interrupted. “But it’s a good idea. She’ll be my daughter’s handmaid.”
Eupoleia and her slaves stood round the shaking girl. “What is your name, child?” she asked.
The girl was too frightened to speak until one of the servant women cuffed her sharply.
“The Queen has deigned to ask you a question, wretched thing,” Megaera said. “Answer her.”
Crying, the girl tried to speak. The old woman raised her hand again, causing the child to flinch.
Maia interrupted. “Oh, leave it alone, Megaera. She’s a slave. We’ll give her a name.”
“Medousa,” came the tiny, frightened whimper. They turned again to look at her.