The Last Greek by Christian Cameron (Commander Book 2)
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.9 MB
The most powerful empires in the world brawl over the spoils of a declawed Greece.
Philopoemen has a vision to end the chaos and anarchy that consumes his homeland – to stop the endless wars and preserve the world he loves. He must resist the urge of the oligarchs to surrender to their oppressors and raise an army to defend his countrymen from the all-conquering powers of Sparta, Macedon and Rome.
It is the last roll of the dice for the Achean League. The moment Philopoemen has been training for his whole life.
The new Achilles is poised to restore the glory of the former empire. To herald a new era.
The moment before dawn: the sacred precinct of Epidauros seemed to hang in a timeless darkness, the white marble of the sanctuary’s precious buildings mere pale blurs against the stronger shadows; and then, as light touched the rim of the world beyond the mountains to the east, suddenly there was the sound of birds, the lower tones of insects, and the salmon pink of rosy-fingered dawn reached to touch the pillars of the temple, the columns of the stoa, the floor and seats of the theatre and the walls and marble roofs of the houses of healing. For a breath, the grey was touched in rose, and then the dawn swept over the sanctuary of the healing god like a reckless pink cavalry charge.
Alexanor of Kos and his wife Aspasia stood at different altars – he at the altar of Apollo, the god himself, and she at the altar of Hygeia, goddess of health – nor did they exchange even a glance, and yet Alexanor was aware of her, and aware, too, of the old priest, Sostratos, watching his every ritual motion, and Leon, his friend and vicar, swirling a censer over the head of the sacrifice.
The bull roared and turned his head towards the incense burner, and in that moment, Alexanor’s knife slashed, and the bull’s head came down. Blood poured from its open throat and its mighty knees buckled, and then it fell forward even as Alexanor stepped to the side to avoid the splash of crimson blood on his white robes.
The blood of the sacrifice ran like bright red wine in the grooves cut for the purpose, and a dozen under-priests began to cut the dead animal. A thigh bone wrapped in thick fat and tied with bloody tendons was placed on the altar before Alexanor by a stone-faced novice. He raised the thigh bones in supplication and then placed them on the brazier, full of charcoal and burning like an ironsmith’s furnace.
The smell of sizzling fat filled the temple, overwhelming the more delicate notes of frankincense.
Alexanor’s stomach rumbled loudly enough for Leon to hear it and the two men exchanged a smile. After four days of fasting, the smell of rich animal fat was as enticing as the ritual itself.
One of the local priests frowned, as if the rumble of Alexanor’s stomach was an impiety, and Alexanor wondered what was wrong. He’d sensed a coldness from the priests, even some of those he’d trained with.
Across the temple, Sostratos completed his own sacrifice and put the thigh bones of a ram on his lit brazier. At the northern end of the complex, Aspasia and two other priestesses finished their own litanies and placed a series of shaped barley cakes on the fires of their altars, so that the smells of the sacrifices mingled, rising to the gods.
Two junior priests stripped naked, pulling their spotless white himations off and laying them over the waiting arms of acolytes, to begin the serious business of butchering the ritual meat. The ram and the bull sacrificed in honour of the birth of the god Apollo would feast every man and woman in the sanctuary, from illustrious guests and healing patients to the newest slaves.