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The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Band of Thebes

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Book: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Band of Thebes

Chapter 1

Through his dust caked eyes he could see the spray of the sun spilling out from the cloud filled heavens like the mist of sea-foam crashing into rocks from the Mediterranean. One thing plagued his mind. Was he dead?

If one is dead, could they hear the last fatal gasps of their fellow comrades in arms all around them? Would the blood flow from his sliced skin? Perhaps not. Perhaps he is still alive.

Last he remembered he was on the battlefield of Chaeronea in the year 338 BC along side 299 of his deeply committed corps of elite fighters. Yet now, all that was dear to him lie dead or dying on this body-riddled field of weathered grass and horse dung. As he struggled to see, with blood, dirt, and sweat hindering his sight, in his heart he knew they had been massacred. Philip II of Macedon and his glorious golden-haired son had been their doom.

If he moved, would they find he was yet alive and spear him through the heart?

As best he could he listened for footfalls. Someone was drawing near. He dared not look. But, what will living bring him? Slavery and hard labor no doubt. Surely now would be a very good time to die. Then he can join Meleagros in the afterlife. He had seen his lover cut down by Alexander's cavalry. A devastating blow he did receive that knocked him down in his path. What hope had he that any life was left to his earthly body? It had been at that point in battle that he had gone mad, slashing and hewing at everything in his way. Killing more than thirty men, he finally felt the crash of steel himself, cutting across his chest armour, slicing his right biceps so he no longer could hold his blade. As it dropped from his useless limb, another forceful strike of a spear deflected off his chest plate, sending him to where he lay, choking to catch air into his lungs through bruised ribs as blood flowed from his arm. Indeed, he wished he were already dead.

As the crunching of metal approached he decided to take his execution with honor. Meleagros had. Never would he feign death and shame his lover or himself.

Forcing his eyelids to open against that brightness in the sky, he faced his enemy.

Struggling to focus as his shadow crossed his brow, he met his eyes. The brilliance of their color startled him, for they were as blue as the sky behind his halo of golden hair.

"One is alive, Father!" he shouted to someone behind him.

"Then kill him!"

He heard that roar of what he could only guess could be the King of Macedon. Having heard it once before in this battle, he never forgot it. So, this is Alexander, Prince of the World.

As this young princeling knelt down near him, he never released contact with his gaze. With gentle hands Alexander removed his helmet of silver and bronze with the white crest of horse mane, and petted his damp hair back from his face. Once again to his father he did shout, "I cannot! I will not! Not one so brave as the Sacred Band!"

In his irritated grumble, the father-king, shouted, "As you wish." The pounding of hooves he heard soon after as he left his son to his own.

Alexander's smile was disarming. They had all thought he was an enemy, a barbarian, hated by Athens and Thebes. What was this? Compassion? Kindness?

In formal Greek Nikanoras asked, "Will you not do me the honor and kill me now lest I be ashamed that I have not died valiantly? I am no slave."

Sitting over him, Alexander urged him to use his lap for a pillow. "No, you are no slave. Who are you, noble warrior?"

"I am Nikanoras, son of the Theban statesman Saliukos."

"And you will be cared for, and your wound treated." With that, he raised his head and shouted for another of his comrades. "Hephaestion, help me get this wounded man to our camp so we may tend him."

When the two righted him, Nikanoras was able to witness the carnage. It took everything he had to not wail in agony at the sight of his companions cut to ribbons and still as stones. Averting his gaze once again to Helios in the heavens for the last thing he dared find was his lover, Meleagros, somewhere among this mass of grisly corpses.

Though he tried to prevent it, a moan of anguish did pass his lips.

Both men squeezed him tighter around his waist in comfort and almost had to carry him to their camp.

A prisoner was he. Though he was treated kindly and his wound cleaned and dressed, he knew his fate.

Bringing him a bowl of beef and broth himself, Alexander sat at his side and urged him to eat. Nikanoras had not the stomach for it. Seeing this, Alexander had a slave pour him wine. Of that, Nikanoras drank down to the bottom.

"Father is burying the men of your Sacred Band with honor, Nikanoras. Two hundred and fifty-four of your men will be given proper funerals. And he will see to it a monument is erected to watch over them."

With tears rolling down his cheeks he asked, "Why are you being so kind to your enemy?"

"Because you are known as the boldest of adversaries, committed to one another like a lover to his beloved. All who stood before you were in mortal fear of your power and skill. You have been a thing of wonder and worship to me all my life."

Of that, Nikanoras guessed, it would be no more than twenty years, his own age. Like a shade passing in his mind, instantly the face of Meleagros appeared before him. His beauty and grace, his warmth and intelligence, gone from him forever, like a feather to the breeze. Gone whilst this enemy, the crown Prince of Macedon tells him he was worshipping them at the same time as his army had extinguished them.

As gentle, and with as little condescension as possible, Alexander again handed him the bowl. "Eat, Nikki, eat."

When Nikanoras spun quickly to see his face, Alexander knew that pet name had been used before. Nikanoras gaped at him in horror and said, "Do not call me that again. I beg it of you."

"I am sorry." The adoring smile remained on the prince's face, however.

After pondering carefully, Nikanoras asked, "You said, only two-hundred and fifty-four graves shall be dug. Do you mean that forty-five more of my band have been taken alive?"

Handing the bowl off to a servant, Alexander studied Nikanoras' bright brown eyes. "Yes. We are keeping you separated. You understand why. For now." As if he were a doting mother, Alexander caressed his hair reassuringly. Though he tried to take comfort, and Nikanoras knew they were being cared for as was he, he could not help but wonder, to what end? What hell? What sacrifice? This he did not know.

He knew only one fact: It was the end of an army that had never seen a loss. One that had always been triumphant for over the last forty years. And to his own private nightmare, it has been defeated whilst he was a part of it.

Thebes never again could claim any power. This was the time of Macedon.