“Ah, Eirenaios! Bored already?”
The famous young Commander, who was in the process of quitting a symposium, halted at being thus addressed. The speaker happened to be another Commander, an experienced man who was nearly made Harmost* himself.
“Commander Pyxis,” said Eirenaios, bowing his head, “good evening. I have seen this play before, and thought it best to remove myself before I divulged the rest of the tale to my neighbours.”
The old Commander joined the young one, and they began to walk again. “Ha! I rather think you're too polite to do such a thing! Your very name belies your words -'a man of peace’, eh?”
“My father was very optimistic in his choice of name for me*,” Eirenaios murmured. The old man burst into laughter. “Indeed! Queer name for a Spartan, I always thought.”
Eirenaios simply smiled.
“Well, well. What exploits does a personable young man like you seek tonight?”
“I have been invited to a feast at an old friend's home.”
“A Spartan with an old friend who is an Athenian. You are full of surprises, my boy,” Pyxis remarked, his eyes twinkling in his usual cunning manner.
Eirenaios seemed unfazed by the old man's ill-disguised curiosity. “There are no secrets in my life.”
Pyxis grinned. “True enough. I believe we are both headed the same way, for I have also been invited to Nikandros’ feast. He is a good host.”
“He is a worthy friend,” Eirenaios said in agreement.
“And his wife even more so!”
Again, Eirenaios smiled, but said nothing. It may have been for the fact that he did not wish to add to Pyxis’ famous arsenal of information. Or perhaps he was simply being laconic, as his Spartan heritage had taught him. Either way, the men spoke of little else of consequence before they reached the opulent home of the generous Nikandros.
They were received immediately by the hostess herself, who laughed daintily at the old Commander's jokes and directed him to the festivities at once. Only then did she turn her beatific smile upon Eirenaios, who bowed before her.
“You grow more beautiful daily, Myrine.”
“Ever the flatterer! I am so glad you have come,” said she, pressing his hand warmly. “We have missed seeing you, Erwin.”
He smiled at the old nickname only those closest to him knew. “And I have missed your hospitality.”
“Come, Nikandros has been waiting for you.”
The two friends met with sincere joy, and before long, they were exchanging tales of their wartime exploits to an appreciative audience. The Spartan's stories were always greeted with several eager questions, for the uniqueness of their city-state was known far and wide.
“Is it true your women fight as well as the men? That they are instructed in the same theories the men are?*” One of the starry-eyed spectators questioned him.
Erwin exchanged a small smile with Myrine. “Yes.”
“Astonishing,” the man murmured. “But do you not find it encourages them to have ideas above their station?”
Erwin noticed Nikandros place a calming hand on his wife's wrist -for though her smile remained, her eyes had turned cold and her fingers were curling into fists. He turned to the tactless interrogator. “The women of Sparta are encouraged to behave exactly as they must in their station. As the mothers and wives of Sparta, they freely give our land her most precious commodity -her men.” A small pause, which succeeded in flustering the guest. “They are given everything they rightly deserve.” He gestured elegantly at his hostess, “Our lovely hostess here will attest to this.”
The man looked positively distressed at this point and apologised profusely to Myrine, who was superbly gracious. Nikandros discreetly rolled his eyes at Erwin, whose smile widened.
“But speaking of wives and their duties,” Myrine said, deftly changing the course of what had become an uncomfortable conversation. “When are you going to get one for yourself, Eirenaios?” She smirked at him. “Do you not want someone to welcome you home from the wars and restore your spirits?”
“I have no need of any of that,” said Erwin in his easy manner, and the conversation continued to flow in its light vein.
It was late when he returned to his quarters, and seemed a little affected when he saw it empty. He instructed his servants to send any visitors to his planning chamber at once, and retreated there. He sat and pored over maps for a long time, taking an occasional sip of watered wine. Several times he walked out into the courtyard and paced about, his eyes fixed in the direction of the city's gates. Even the least discerning observer would have deemed him nervous, though he did not speak a word of his anxiety.
It was close to dawn when he was informed that a group of soldiers sought an audience with him. He bade them enter his planning chamber immediately.
“Well?” Said he, his stern manner making him look like the smiling Erwin at the feast had been a different man altogether.
“Piraeus is practically ours*,” said one of the Captains assembled before him. Another Captain added, “Our cavalry and recruit base have suffered some losses.”
“More than the rebels?” Erwin asked.
“That is good. Anything else of import?”
“Nothing urgent, sir,” said another man responded.
“Good. You may rest, my men. We will speak of the details in the morning.”
The men gave him heartfelt salutes and dispersed, the looks on their faces clear in their admiration of their staunch but fair Commander. But one man remained behind, watching him; waiting, perhaps, for the footsteps of the others to fade away.
“You're up late,” said he when it was silent, placing his helmet upon the table.
Erwin smiled, and once more he was a changed man: none of the smiles he had displayed earlier that evening compared to the warmth of this one.
“I wanted to wait for news.”
The Captain untied a knife from his belt and let it fall on the table with a clatter. “Tch. You're an idiot. You never get enough sleep.”
Erwin walked around the table to stand in front of the surprisingly short man. “How was it, really?”
“Pathetic,” the Captain spat. “I was wasted on the battlefield. The losses were unnecessary.”
“You think so?” Erwin murmured, taking his shield from him and carefully placing it aside.
The Captain snorted and removed his sword from his belt. “I know so. After having fought with you, every battle is too tame, every Commander too stupid.”
Erwin’s smile widened. “Careful, now. Your words are too close to blasphemy.”
“My words do not blaspheme my own faith,” the Captain said, suddenly solemn. “And that is all that matters.”
Erwin stepped closer until a hair's breadth separated them. “Your own faith, Captain Leuitikon?” With a tenderness that seemed impossible in his large fingers, he brushed lightly at a cut on the Captain's bare chest. “You once told me you were a faithless, godless man.”
The Captain's eyes were pinpricks of stormy grey. “That was many years ago,” said he. “Though now I yet remain godless, I have found a new faith.”
“Oh?” The Commander's astonishingly blue eyes were shimmering. “And what have you placed your faith in?”
Leuitikon’s alabaster hands clasped both of Erwin's. “These hands,” he said softly, then moved his own, placing one on the back of Erwin's head and the other on his chest. “This brain. This heart.”
At that, Erwin simply leaned down and claimed the Captain's lips with his own, and both men seemed to breathe a sigh of relief into each other, clutching onto the other as if they would never let go.
When they did break apart, Erwin whispered, “I've missed you, Levi.” He ran his fingers through his lover's silky dark hair, and sighed, “I hardly know what to do without you around.”
Levi reached up and touched the darkened underside of one of Erwin's eyes gently, but his expression remained sour. “You'd be well rested, if anything.”
Erwin grinned and led him away from the table and out of the room. “You still will not let it go, will you?”
“How can I, when you look like a disgusting old man?” Levi quipped, following pliantly, elucidating a quiet snigger from the normally dignified Commander. He barely flinched when he was suddenly in Erwin's arms again upon reaching his bedchamber.
“I wish you would not berate me so. I simply wanted to welcome you home from the war and restore your spirits.” Erwin breathed on the side of his long, pale neck.
Levi's features finally softened into a fond smile. “Well, then. Get restoring.”
And Erwin proceeded to do just that.