all my strength, and failed, as he grinned at me mischievously the while.

I never felt afraid with the man or of him. In fact as the days progressed I came to embrace a profound sympathy for the fellow, despite his numerous criminal deeds and lack of repentance therefor. His name, Polemides, as you know, means “child of war.”

But he was not a child of just any war, rather one unprecedented in scale and duration and distinguished beyond all previous conflicts by its debasement of that code of honor, justice, and voluntary

restraint by whose tenets all prior strife among Hellenes had been conducted. It was indeed this war, the first modern war, which forged our narrator's destiny and directed it to its end. He began as a soldier and ended as an assassin. How was I any different? Who may disaffirm that I or any other did not enact in the shadows of our private hearts, by commission or omission, that same dark history played out in daylight by our countryman Polemides?

He was, like me, a product of our time. As to the harbor, high road and low follow their several courses along the shore, so his path had paralleled my own and that of the main of our contemporaries, only passing through different country.



You ask, Jason [the prisoner Polemides spoke], which aspect is most distasteful of the assassin's art. Knowing you as the paragon of probity you are, you no doubt anticipate some response involving bloodguilt or ritual pollution, perhaps some physical difficulty of the kill. It is neither. The hardest part is bringing back the head.

You have to, to get paid.

Telamon of Arcadia, my mentor in the profession of manslaughter, taught me to pack it in olive oil and bring it home in a jar. In the early days of the war such proof was not required. A ring might do, or an amulet, or so my tutor apprised me later, as at that time I had not yet commenced employment in the “silent art,” but served as a common soldier like everyone else. The assassin's requirements grew sterner as the war dragged on. Those victims who got the chance invariably pleaded, some quite eloquently, for their lives. For my part I considered it dishonorable, not to say bad business, to yield to such blandishments. I honored my commitments.

I see you smile, Jason. You must remember I was not always a villain. My family counted among its ancestors the hero Philaeus, Ajax' son, forebear of Miltiades and Cimon, he to whom the rights of the city were granted with his brother Eurysaces, from whom Alcibiades claimed descent. My father was a Knight of Meleager and bred racers, a number of exceptional lineage, including the mare Briareia, who was the pole horse on Alcibiades' team when it won the crown at Olympia, the year of his magnificent triple, when Euripides himself sang the victory ode. We were good people.

People of quality.

That said, I make no pretense to innocence of Alcibiades' assassination or any other charge. But these scoundrels aren't after me for that, are they? They're still too happy to see him dead. Men hate nothing worse than that mirror held before them whose reflection displays their own failure to prove worthy of themselves.

This likewise is your master's crime, Socrates the philosopher. He will suck hemlock for it. My own transgressions, I fear, remain unsullied by such aspirations to honor.

This murder charge, I say, the one of that luckless fellow Philemon…of this I'm innocent. It was an accident! Ask anyone who saw it.

But listen to me beg for my life! I sound like every other lying swine in here. [Laughs.] If I had gold in the yard, I'd dig it up. Yes, and have your way with my wife and daughters as well! [Laughs again.]

But hear me, Jason. I appreciate your coming. I am aware of the demands upon you from other quarters and grateful for your time. I know you despise, if not me, then my transgressions. As for my chances of acquittal, the betting man will long since have purchased the shovel to dig my grave. Yet remain, I beseech you.

Track with me the course of this man I am said to have slain and our intertwined fates-yours, mine, and our nation's.

If I am guilty, Athens is too. What did I perform, save what she desired? As the city loved him, so did I. As she hated him, I did too.

Let us tell that story, of the spell he cast over our state and how that bewitchment led us to ruin, all in the same basket. As I plead for my life like the dog I am, perhaps we may dig up some gold in the yard, the treasure of insight and illumination. What do you say, Jason? Will you assist me? Will you help a villain explore the provenance of his villainy?



When I was ten, my father sent me for my schooling to Sparta.

This was far from unheard-of in the decades before the war, when fellow feeling still prevailed between the two great states by whose allied exertions Greece had been preserved from the Persian yoke. Periodic clashes and conflicts notwithstanding, the dominant disposition toward Sparta among the Athenian gentry was respect. Many of the older landed families, not alone of our city but of Greece entire, shared bonds of guest-friendship with clans at Sparta; such gentlefolk often felt keener kinship for their kind across borders than for the commons of their own states, whose increasing stridency and self-assertion threatened not only to overturn the old courtly ways but to coarsen and corrupt the rising generation of youth. What more satisfactory inoculation for these striplings, their fathers reasoned, than a turn or two in the Spartan agoge, the Upbringing, where a lad learned the old-fashioned virtues of silence, continence, and obedience?

Among my father's forebears were the Athenian heroes Miltiades and Cimon, the latter esteemed by the Spartans little less than their own kings, which affection Cimon returned in abundance, naming his eldest son Lacedaemonius, who himself trained at Sparta, though only to age sixteen. Through such ties and by his own exertions my father succeeded in enrolling his firstborn among that handful of foreigners permitted to “stand, steal, and starve” beside their Lacedaemonian counterparts.

Some twenty or thirty of us anepsioi, “cousins,” trekked in each year from all Greece, taking our places among the seven hundred homegrowns. Alcibiades himself, though he did not train at Lacedaemon, was xenos, guest-friend, of the Spartan knight Endius (who would stand present in Asia to oversee his friend's assassination). Endius' father was named Alcibiades, a Lacedaemonian name which alternated in both families. My own father's name, Nicolaus, is Laconian, as was mine at birth, Polemidas, but whose pronunciation and spelling I Atticized upon enlistment.

I was nineteen when war began, at Sparta, one season shy of that commencement called 0 and C, Ordeal and Commission, the accession granted to non-Lacedaemonians, equivalent to initiation into the Corps of Peers for citizens, the Spartiatai, and their

“stepbrother” comrades, the mothakes.

Few believed then that the war would last more than a season.

True, Athenian troops were in action, besieging Potidaea, but this was strictly an internal affair between Athens and one of her subject states, however vocally the latter might squeal, and did not violate the Peace. It was not Sparta's ox being gored. The Spartan army, egged on by her allies, had indeed invaded Attica in retaliation, yet so lightly was this regarded that I without demurral participated in the pack-out of the two line divisions, to be reinforced by twenty thousand heavy infantry of Sparta's Peloponnesian allies, which comprised the invasion brigades. All the foreign boys helped too. We thought nothing of it. The army would march in, raise hell, and march out, to be succeeded by some form of negotiated settlement by fall or winter. The idea that we lads in schooling might be sent home was never even broached.

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