law pt 1: the wolves’ law

[This is the beginning of the next chapter, called Law, containing three parts]

In the rocky land of Greece, men loved to quarrel: farmers, heroes, kings, cities. No two cities hated each other more than Argos and Sparta.

Proud Argos bred farmers and traders. The land was rough, but food came in from beyond the sea and from the sweat of good men working the soil. They ruled the plains of southern Greece.

Sparta bred wolves. Their laws, given to them by Lycurgus the Wolf Crafter, declared that no Spartan could devote his life to anything but war. Schooled from childhood in the ways of battle, the Spartan man did not fear death. The spear, the sword and the javelin held no terror for him.

But he feared one thing: Spartan law. The same law which bred wolves also had the power to kill them. No Spartan who shied away from a fight could ever bear the shame. He would rather die! Every Spartan mother expected this of her son. So the fear of the law ruled every Spartan’s heart.

Now it came to pass that Argos and Sparta came to quarrel, since in the rocky land of Greece, men loved to quarrel. What they both wanted for themselves was the plain of Thyrea. So the king of Argos and the king of Sparta settled the matter as kings often do. They gathered their soldiers and marched to battle. Thousands of warriors put on their gleaming armour and rumbled to dusty Thyrea.

But before the two armies could clash and spill such blood that even heaven would hide its face in sorrow, the two kings relented. Perhaps it would be enough for three hundred champions from each army to fight and claim Thyrea. Why feed so many others needlessly to the jaws of tearful war? So the two kings agreed and departed, leaving only three hundred Argives and three hundred Spartans to fight. Then the trumpet sounded, and the army of champions crashed into each other. Sorrowful battle began and heaven hid its face.

By nightfall, when the soil, beloved of farmers, was churned to mud, and the spears lay broken, and dead men lay thick on the ground like bundles of wheat in the harvest time, only three men remained.

Two were Argives, and the third was a Spartan. The Argives, seeing that they outnumbered the enemy, decided that they were the victors. But the Spartan, Othryades, did not think the battle was over. He refused to back down, and by Spartan law was prepared to die where he stood.

“Come forward!” he shouted to the Argives, “Come forward so I may see your faces and loosen your knees!” But the Argives scoffed and ignored him. They picked their way through the dead bodies and ran back to their king. Their hearts were light in their chests, for they knew they had won the battle, and could not wait to announce their victory.

As Othryades watched them run, he in turn rejoiced, for his heart told him that it was the Spartans who had won the battle. Why else would the enemy be running away? So he preformed the rites of Spartan victory, stripping the enemy bodies of their armour and placing them by the Spartan dead. Then Othryades gazed with deep love at the bodies of his friends. “Be glad, my brothers! For I have made good your sacrifice. Sparta is victorious. But how could I alone return home while all of you have gone below? Our law would make a wretch of me for as long as I live.” So taking his sword, he thanked heaven for the victory and there killed himself, for he would see his brothers in the next life.

The next morning, the gleaming armies of the Argives and Spartans returned to Thyrea. The Argive warriors shouted their victory, for – look! – their two champions remained, while there lying in his own blood was the wretched Othryades.

But the Spartans said that they were the ones who had won, for Othryades had obeyed the law by standing his ground, and – look! – he had even performed the victory rites, stripping the enemy bodies of their armour and adorning the Spartan dead. He had killed himself only because he could not bear to part from his brothers. He had not run from the field of sorrowful battle as had the Argives.

And so they quarreled, as men do in rocky Greece.

Now Spartan law decreed that no man must ever shy from a fight, ever back down from a challenge. This was a fear which ruled every Spartan man’s heart. Far better for a wolf to be torn apart in a fight than torn apart by shame. And so, on the plain of Thyrea, the Spartans followed their law, charging forward and devouring the Argives. Then they marched home, howling in victory. The wolves had eaten, satisfying both their bellies and their law. The soil, beloved of farmers, was churned to mud, and dead men lay in it like wheat in the summertime, to satisfy the laws.

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