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"No idiot, don't pull-push!"


"Push the fucking arrow until it comes out the other side. You'll tear the muscle out of my leg if you pull."

Already his voice sounded weaker, and as I took my foot off his hip it splashed into a puddle beneath him, which was warm despite the sleet. The tourniquet was not stanching the flow. I sliced off a piece of the leather strip hanging as excess on the tourniquet and gave it to him; he knew what was required. Folding it double he placed it in his mouth between his teeth. I twisted the toe of my sandal into the frozen mud behind me, making a small dent to gain purchase. In a single motion I seized the shaft again and pushed with all my might, in the direction of his knee.

Perhaps I was hesitant, for at first it did not move. Xenophon lunged in pain, arching his shoulder and throwing back his head, and his hand gripped the calf of my own leg like a vice. His chest heaved as he snorted air through his nostrils, and he grunted in agony as the arrowhead slowly cut its excruciating path through his yielding flesh with an audible tearing sound. I prayed that the gods would keep my strength true, that I would not waver or Xenophon jerk his leg, that the head would not break from the shaft. Though his body convulsed in pain he held his leg still, until with a slight pop and a sudden release of pressure the bronze head emerged from just above the side of the knee, slightly askew of the shaft, yet still secure.

I let go the shaft, my grip so tight I almost had to pry my fingers loose, and rolled back on my heels in exhaustion. Xenophon released his grasp on my leg and spit out the leather, panting and groaning. I reached out to touch his head and found that despite the bitter cold he was covered in a sweat.

"Now," he gasped, "cut the head and pull out the shaft."

I drew my dagger, and groping in the dark found where the long, narrow head protruded from the skin. The blood flowed unimpeded out the hole, and there was not much time. I sliced cleanly through the wooden shaft in two strokes, allowing the bronze head to drop with a small clink to the gravel between his legs, and then sitting up and resuming my squat in the mud at his shoulder, I grasped the fletching and smoothly and quickly drew the shaft back out the way it had entered. Xenophon did not lunge this time but merely twitched, and was silent despite the fact that he had not replaced the leather in his mouth. I seized a roll of bandage linen and stuffed shreds into the arrow holes, further securing them by wrapping the bandage around the wounds several times. In the dark, I could only hope for the best. The sheer pain had rendered Xenophon unconscious during the worst of it, though if I thanked the gods for this one small blessing it was premature, for they were not finished with us yet.

The sleet turned to hail, and the hail to snow, and when we stood to stamp our feet and bring warmth to our freezing limbs we found that it would not come, and we knew that we could no longer sit down that night. Fire was out of the question, for there was no fuel to be had on the rocky slope. Our jaws seized up in the cold and we found it difficult to talk, so we clopped woodenly up and down the muddy path in silence, our feet devoid of feeling. The entire night we tramped back and forth, blindly shouldering past one another, as the snow built on our helmets and shoulders and blew into treacherous drifts at our feet. We dared not venture further in the darkness for fear of falling off the cliff, or worse, running into Thrasybulus' men still lurking in the shadows. Xenophon, though awake and lucid, remained in excruciating pain. Throwing one arm around my shoulder, he limped along beside me in silence as best he could, as the skies opened up and the gods poured down upon us more snow in a single night than Athens had seen in two generations.

By the time the first feeble gray glow appeared in the east, three of our company were corpses, frozen to the stiffness of boards and covered with a dead man's shroud of white snow. They had been unable to move during the night because of their injuries. Xenophon, too, was in a dangerous state; the bleeding had stopped, but the foot was a terrible blue from the cold and from his inability to stamp it to move the blood. We could feel nothing, we could not grasp our spears, we could not talk, and though our armor provided some shelter against the driving wind and bitter cold, the feeling of the metal against our skin was unbearable.

"We leave now," Xenophon grunted, peering weakly through the thick snow as soon as he was able to make out the narrow ledge of the trail skirting the gorge. He held his palsied hands up to his face, blowing on them fruitlessly to warm them.

"And what if Thrasybulus' men…" I began.

"They'll be as frozen as we. Either we die here in the snow or we die fighting. I prefer the hard way."

Word passed along the line, and in an instant the men had assembled, limping and drawn, ready to depart. Litters were improvised of spear shafts and thongs to drag the dead and injured. We moved off, floundering through the drifts and steadying ourselves against the rocks with our frozen hands until our fingers bled and left bright crimson trails in the white to mark our passage, though we felt no pain in them. The men had left their weapons behind and stumbled along wraithlike, their hands in their armpits in the posture of madmen, peering fearfully through the snow and the semidarkness for any signs of attack.

There were none. Halfway down the mountainside we surprised a wild-eyed young sentry from the army who had hidden behind a boulder at our approach, thinking we were either the ghosts of those massacred, or Thrasybulus' men on a dawn raid. Astonished at learning we had lived through the terrible night on the mountain, he slid down the rest of the way to the camp, where he quickly organized a detachment of hoplites to climb up in the blinding snow and assist us in our descent.

Later that morning, as we shivered under thin blankets in camp while the snow continued to fall, several of Critias' Spartans returned from where they had been reconnoitering the fortress, attempting to determine how best we could lay siege and drive the rebels to surrender. They marched silently by our tiny fire, their tattered scarlet cloaks billowing and slapping in the wind, unperturbed by the powder covering their sandal-shod feet. Xenophon raised himself up on one elbow as they filed past to Critias' tent to report.

"Where are the rebels?" Xenophon called out to them. "Have they reinforced the entry? Did you see the dragons?"

They ignored his questions, staring straight ahead with faces as grim and stony as the mountain itself, not even bothering to disguise the contempt in which they held us.

Two days later, after the hellish return to Athens in a commandeered supply cart, during which three of the mules foundered and died in the bitter cold, Xenophon was carried half-frozen and feverish into his father's house. Upon seeing his son near death for the second time in his life, steely old Gryllus openly wept. Later that night, after offering a libation of scarce wine to the gods and an entire cup to me in thanksgiving, he rewarded me with my manumission. I was a free man, at least in body.

I would later encounter the dragons and their keeper again.



In our mortal lives, the gods assign a proper time

For each thing upon the good earth.



LIKE THE GODS, or perhaps completely unlike them, I was always with him. My very nickname, Theo, reflects this fact. My earliest memories are identical to his, though my final recollections, I fear, have extended far beyond his own. I was present when he was born, assisting with his cleaning and attending to his tears. I will be there when he dies, no doubt engaged in precisely the same tasks. Throughout my life I tended him well, a guardian spirit, a muse, a scold, and a nuisance. Together we walked with shades and fought with Spartans, served princes and earned favor from kings. With him I entered hell and returned to the living. And with the exception of a brief interlude in a distant, muddy village on the Black Sea when my soul was not my own, or better said, when it was not his, I stood by him always. Having it otherwise would have been unthinkable for us both.