Echelas was born in fifth-century Sparta, with the golden hair said to herald favor from the gods. However, if his life has been divinely blessed, Echelas would not have believed it. From his brutal childhood in the wilds to an adolescence spent mastering the art of war, Echelas has constantly struggled to prove himself a true son of Sparta. Framed for murder and awaiting the inevitable moment of his execution, Echelas is left dependent on the word of a mad, deposed king to see him vindicated.
From his prison cell, Echelas recounts his life and those who have graced it, including Elara, a young woman heis forbidden to love but who he is helpless to resist. Even as he tells his tale, a new threat is rising in the east. The massive armies of the Persian empire are advancing and they mean to conquer not only Sparta, but the entire Greek world with it.
I stood my ground, planting my heels in the earth I would likely be buried in by day’s end. The sun was not even a glowing hint against the horizon as we prepared ourselves, three hundred Spartiates―Sparta’s chosen sons―dressed in bronze armor and hefting our shields against our arms. As we gathered beyond the defensive wall, in the narrow channel where the cliffs of Kallidromos pressed eastward toward the sea, a scrap of land known as Thermopylae, the only sounds among us were the clattering of our armor plates as we moved, the thudding rhythm of our footfalls against the ground and the rush of water drawing against the beach.
The phalanxes formed, men flanking one another in tight files, the broad circumferences of their shields overlapping before them. We stood facing north, with the fluttering illumination of torches caught in the breeze draping across our ranks, glittering against polished bronze and sharpened spear points. There was no sound but the sea; the wind rustling our cloaks and the measure of our own breaths to break the heavy weight of silence.
We heard the Persians before we even saw them. The thrumming of their feet came to us faintly at first, like distant drums. It grew louder, reverberating off of the sheer cliff faces to our left, until we could feel it in the ground. The earth beneath us trembled and when the sun began to rise, we could see them. The dawn’s first glow struck against their armor, their weapons. They came upon us, filling the narrow channel of the pass, and their footfalls became like thunder.
“Gods above,” Dieneces whispered from my left. We stood five rows back from the front line of the shield wall, each of us calling orders to divisions within the phalanx.
“Call the march,” one of the senior officers behind us shouted out, his voice carrying like a bell toll on the morning air. Other seniors picked up the call, barking out the command, and the flutists trilled out sharp, sudden notes.
“Present your shields!” I shouted. From my left, Dieneces voice overlapped with mine as we relayed orders to our troops. The men of the phalanxes moved in tandem, shifting the weights of their shields against their arms and presenting the bronze plates in full to the north. The flutes trilled again, and more orders were called. We began to advance, marching in perfect unison.
The thunder of our footsteps could not drown out that of my heart. I could not breathe; my throat had collapsed in on itself, and I do not know how I forced my voice out to call my commands. “Present your pikes!” I shouted, and the first three rows of advancing hoplites shifted again, lowering their spears, presenting them towards the advancing Persians.
I was shaking; I could feel fright and adrenaline surging through me, seizing my limbs, collapsing around my heart. The earth shuddered beneath me, as much from the measured rhythm of the phalanx as the Persians. They were upon us now, near enough for me to see the front line brandished short spears; I could see ranks of archers behind these.