Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

The Truce-Bearers

"Who are these?" asked Brasidas of Chartas, as two strange men entered Sparta near the close of a summer day. "They must have traveled some distance," he added, noticing their dust-covered cloaks.

"They are travelers, surely," replied Chartas, and then, laying his hand upon Brasidas' arm, he said eagerly, "I wonder—can it be that they are the truce-bearers from Elis?"

"Truly, I believe that they are!" exclaimed Brasidas. "Come, let us follow."

The travelers looked about them with interest, as travelers in a strange city will, and the two eager boys followed.

Presently the men reached the market-place of the city, and entered.

"We can go no farther," said Chartas, in a disappointed tone, as he stopped.

"No," said Brasidas, stopping also. "I have no desire to be flogged for so common-place a reason as entering the market-place. I did not know that Melon was so foolish till yesterday."

"Melon!" said Chartas. "Of Procles' company? What of him?"

"Did you not hear?" asked Brasidas laughingly. "He was flogged last night for entering the market-place. A slave was running from his master, and Melon's curiosity got the better of him, and he followed."

"He must have been curious!" exclaimed Chartas, with an answering laugh. "Was he so anxious to see the slave flogged that he forgot his own safety?"

"I think that, to-day, he will have more sympathy for the slave," chuckled Brasidas. "I wonder," said Chartas, "why it is that we boys are never allowed in the market-place."

"Spartans are not trained for farmers or tradesmen," said Brasidas, "and I suppose if we were allowed there, we would be idle and curious. But, listen," he added, "I believe they are coming back."

Brasidas was right. The two men were now accompanied by some of the magistrates of the city. Before the strangers went a herald who called: "Attend, ye people! The Elean truce-bearers of Zeus address you!"

The people stopped in their various occupations. They came from their homes, and from the temples, and gathered in the streets as the truce-bearers went about proclaiming their message:

"No army may invade another's territory. All must live in peace, that the sacred games at Olympia may be celebrated without interruption or discord."

There was general rejoicing throughout the city, as the truce-bearers proclaimed their mission, and the approaching games became the chief topic of conversation.

"Your father has been to the games," said Gelon to Chartas, as the boys were together later. "Tell us what it is like at Olympia. He has told you, has he not?"

"Yes," replied Chartas, "but it is better to hear from one who has seen for himself."

"But none of us have been. Tell us what you can," urged the boys.

"Of course we know that everybody goes who can," said Chartas, "and Father says that the roads leading to Olympia are filled with travelers of every age, and every station in life. Some ride, but many more walk.

"At Olympia," he continued, "there is a great temple with an image of Zeus, which is made from ivory and gold. The image is forty feet high. All the people go there with offerings, but those who are to take part in the games go before the image and take oath that they have a right to compete, and that they will use only fair means to win.

"In the groves there are many statues of victors, besides temples and altars to the gods.

"A course is laid out for the games, and the people sit in the seats and upon the hillsides which rise all around it."

"It must be a wonderful festival!” exclaimed Brasidas.

"Yes," continued Chartas, "Father says that it is like a great market-place, too, for merchants bring all kinds of goods there to sell. But our Spartan money is not of much use in buying from foreign merchants, nor have they much to sell that could be used in Sparta. We care too little for luxuries, nor would they be allowed within the city.

"On the last day," Chartas resumed, "there are processions in honor of the victors, and sacrifices of thanksgiving are made to Zeus. Then the city of Elis gives a great banquet in honor of those who have won victories in the games."

"I wish we all might go!" exclaimed Dorus.

"Perhaps some of us may compete at the next Olympiad," said Theognis, and then he blushed under his swarthy skin, because he had spoken his thought.

"Four years is a long time to wait," said Dorus, "but it will give us time to practise the games, and perhaps find out what we can do best."

"I have heard it rumored," said Brasidas, "that Gorgo plans to send her chariot and horses then."

"'Tis too bad that she cannot drive them herself!" cried Gelon. "She handles them like a man."

"Ah, but the best drivers in all Greece are there," said Theron. "'Tis not like our smaller festivals." "That is true," replied Gelon, "but I would wager upon a Spartan maiden against a man of Athens!"

"Good!" cried the boys heartily, although they shouted at the same time with laughter.

"But Gorgo's horses are wonderful!" said Dorus, when they had grown quiet again.

And all the boys agreed, "That is true!"