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Like it Rough

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I hadn’t thought much of Mykonos when I arrived, at least until my feet sunk into the sand on that blood-stained beach. The Spartans had been outnumbered, only a dozen or so surrounded by Athenian soldiers, and I could feel a rush of adrenaline as I pulled my weapons from their sheaths. The fight went by quickly, the movements of battle long ingrained into my bones, and I was left coated in blood, though my Spartan companions didn’t look much better than myself. One came closer, his onyx hair braided in the traditional Spartan fashion, and fire danced in his eyes, still hungering for more of a fight. I couldn’t blame him, Athenians—despite the good things I could say about Sokrates, Alkibiades, and Herodotus—never put up a decent fight.

“You fight well. Spartan?” His mouth tilted into a smile as he extended a hand for me to shake. I took it for the friendly gesture it was, yet already I could feel something turning in my gut, a fire of a different breed began kindling itself, and I couldn’t help but think I was about to be in trouble.

“I was, but, that was a long time ago.” I watched him as he restrained an eye roll, and his lips pulled back just the slightest at the corners as if I had told him a joke that wasn’t quite funny enough to laugh at.

“Spartan blood is eternal stranger. What’s your name?”

“Alexios.” I could see recognition overtake the curious look he was giving me as he offered a bow, spine straight, arms crossed at the wrist and touching the small of his back, legs and feet together. I could feel the flames flare higher at his display, and mourned the loss of not having been able to stand behind him to watch the leather and fabric on his battle skirt move with him.

“Ah, Kyra told me that name. They call me Thaletas. I was Polemarch to the Spartans here.” His voice was deep and smooth, and it was hitting all the right spots and I found it hard to concentrate on his words for a moment, then I caught the last few words, his title, Polemarch, and the past tense, was. I had been so enamoured with how he looked I hadn’t been paying much attention to how he looked. His armor definitely said Spartan Polemarch, though, I could tell his pride had taken a bruise.

“Was?” His lips pressed into a firm line and turned away. My eyes darted down the length of his body and back upwards for a moment, a weak attempt the curb the hunger I was feeling. He kept his hands clasped behind him as he took a few steps away.

“Our ship was sunk. Our generals killed. There are only a few of us left.” I licked my lips as I thought of what I should say, what I could say, to rid his voice of the tension—the mourning—that had leaked into it.

“We’ve all lost friend to this war. We can mourn together, but first I need to find Kyra.” Thaletas turned around quickly at the mention of the woman who had sent the message to me, and his previously passive stance turned hostile as his facial features tightened.

“What do you want with her?” I hadn’t been born the day before and knew it had been a jealous question, though, I wasn’t sure whom he was being envious of—myself, or Kyra. For a moment, I thought my previous assessment of him being a predictable, strictly law-abiding Spartan was wrong, though, I also didn’t have much to go on yet. I wanted him though, and I would try my best if he was amicable. I pulled the note I had received from one of many pouches and showed it to him.

“I got a note from Kyra. Her rebellion is failing.” Thaletas’ posture softened and he took his stance back, hands clasped neatly at the base of his spine, feet together as he leaned closer to take a look at the paper in my hand.

“She’s clever. Sparta got the same note. I will help Kyra reclaim these islands.” He brought his hands to his hips as he spoke, and the amount of emphasis he put on himself told me that he was very much uninterested in myself, and revealed who he had been irrationally jealous of at the same time. I could only blink as I tried to sort myself out, wondering where the sharp pang had come from in my chest.

“Just don’t forget who helped you reclaim this beach.” I hoped the dry humor would cover how uncomfortable I had managed to make myself. I soon regretted it as Thaletas let out a hearty laugh and bowed backward from the force of the warm sound.

“I like you warrior. The rebel hideout is an underground cave southwest of here, I’ll meet you there.” He stepped away, calling out for his remaining soldiers to rally behind him and follow. I watched them disappear over the hill and out of sight before I turned my head back towards the beach. Images of the earlier battle played in my head as I searched the bloodied sand for something. Thaletas had stood out among the others, his skill was easy to admire, and his form was beautiful, deadly. The fire in my gut stoked itself higher, and I did my best to stamp down the attraction as I made my way towards the hideout.

The entrance itself wasn’t bad, you had to be coming from it on the right side of the rocks to see the opening, or be able to find handholds to climb over the top. It was also deep enough that the sound from inside didn’t reach the mouth. As I climbed down a ladder and moved a few steps deeper, I could see how well it had been fortified—wooden walkways and walls to break up the space, lots of cover if they were to get trapped in here by soldiers.

“I’m looking for the one called Kyra.” The moment my voice echoed through the cave, the men I had been advancing towards turned, a few others came closer as well, and I found myself at spear point. I gave each spear as much attention as it deserved, thinking that this was going to be a long day if these morons decided to start a fight with me.

“I’ve come in response to a call for help.” As I stared down the men before me, hoping they would be stupid enough to move first, a dagger flew past my face, lodging itself in the support post just a few inches forward and to my left. I looked between the men, offering a tight smile.

“You missed.” I turned my head to search for the thrower, only to see a woman, ebony haired, with her face in a drinking horn, hand still outstretched. She finished whatever had been in the horn, wine most likely, and set it rim down on the table. The companion she had been drinking with stumbled as he stepped away and I listened as he hit the ground, his cup breaking from the height of the dead drop. I had enough courtesy to wince, thinking it had been a while since I had wanted to be that drunk, let alone the last time I had been that drunk. Must have been back on Kephallonia. She gave me a curious look before stepping closer, her movements slow, but measured.

“Are you here to spy Athenian? Or maybe you are Athena herself, dressed in a dirty disguise.” As she got closer I had to restrain myself from rolling my eyes. Athena herself huh?

“Sure. I’m a God. You think it’s wise to throw blades first and ask questions later?” I hoped the sarcasm I used wasn’t lost on her, and I thought I saw a moment of clarity in her eyes as she pressed her lips together and her nostrils flared out. She turned away, and I could see defeat in the forward slump of her shoulders.

“Podarkes and his men have been hunting and killing us without mercy. His spies are everywhere. He won’t rest until all who oppose him are dead. We are all that’s left of the resistance.” As she explained what was going on, I was more and more sure that this Podarkes plaguing the Silver Islands was a member of the Cult. I looked around at the ragtag group she had assembled around her and felt a headache set in. I couldn’t help thinking that these weren’t rebels, they were drunks, but they were the drunks I was going to have to help. Kyra turned back around after being a silent a moment.

“This is the first night we aren’t fighting for our lives, and it could be our last. And suddenly, you show up.” Her eyes were accusatory again as if I was Podarkes in disguise this time, and I rolled my eyes as I pulled out the note for a second time that day, showing her the seal on the papyrus.

“This is why I’m here. It’s your symbol, right?” Her clouded eyes looked at the scroll in my hands, and I watched the drunkenness fade as she brought her hands together in a form of apology.

“You’re the misthios that bears the Eagle of Zeus. My apologies, these are dangerous times for anyone waging war against the Athenian Empire and the Delian League. I am Kyra.” She offered a bow to go with her introduction and I dipped my head to acknowledge it, but something about her previous statement struck a chord.

“I came here to help you deal with one man, not go to war.” She nodded her head, seemingly understanding, though the words coming from her mouth lacked any real intelligence. I was impressed that she hadn’t slurred any yet.

“Which is why I sent word to the mighty Alexios, and Sparta too.” Before I could tell her that her sorry group of twelve Spartans really wasn’t anything to sneeze at, a familiar face came by and interrupted.

“Someone say Sparta?” As Kyra’s eyes fell on Thaletas, both of them shifted closer together, foreheads touching and hands wrapped around the back of the other’s head to keep the pressure. They smiled at one another, and I felt a little empty as I watched the exchange.

“You’re alive!”

“How are your men?” Thaletas broke his embrace with Kyra to look at me, one of his arms coming close enough to touch, though he restrained himself from making contact with me like I thought he would. I held genuine concern for the wellbeing of his soldiers, I had been Spartan once, and I knew the importance of blood better than most.

“Alive as well, thanks to you.” Thaletas’ eyes hovered for a moment too long, and the warmth in them was far too fond. I wondered if I had misinterpreted what he had meant on the beach and what I had just seen, though the look of scrutiny Kyra was giving both of us told me I hadn’t.

“You’ve met? Good. Now that we’re all friends, we need a plan.” Kyra walked away, moving deeper into the cave, and Thaletas motioned for me to walk ahead of him as we followed her to a more private place to speak. I hadn’t missed how she had sharpened the edge of her words and knew that I was going to have to tread carefully here, lest someone end up broken-hearted.