“Shoulder to shoulder, to the death, with honor.”
Crit was neither witch nor priest, not god-bound or, he hoped, god-damned. He was unmagical, at best unflappable even in the face of Tempus or the unknown, but this mission froze his tongue and made his breath come fast. Crit was just a soldier. He couldn’t figure odds when dicing with the gods. He held on to the lead-horse’s bit and its outside rein with one hand and his shortsword’s pommel with the other and waited, to see what this Theban Sacred Band would do. The gods themselves were in this, up to their high-handed tricks, or Lord Storm’s lightning and thunder wouldn’t come illuminating this camp like a fête day when the doomed fighters in those tents ought to be getting a good night’s sleep – not sneaking up through the dark, rousted and ready.
“Not to safety,” the Riddler finally says once more. “To fight on other days. To carry on.”
Then this Theagenes sighs, “Not to safety. For Harmony. Wanting neither too much to live nor too much to die.”
Their code, this strange Sacred Band. Not sworn to a tutelary god such as Enlil, but to a goddess, ‘Harmony.’ More like Niko’s ‘maat.’
And Tempus speaks then, words from deep inside, “As the gods decree.”
Now Theagenes repeats what the Riddler has offered: “But to fight on other days. To carry on. That, I can accept for them. And gladly,” agrees this man who knows the coming dawn will be his last.
If Crit weren’t so nervous that the Theban fighters ambling up might start a skirmish here tonight, he’d have wept for them. But here they came, this other Sacred Band, slipping through the night, so unconcernedly harmonious and quiet as they surrounded his Stepsons, deploying left wing and right, before and behind, all wolfish and keen.
So just in time the Riddler said, “Done,” and stepped down from the chariot’s car to take Theagenes’s hand. Blades snicked from scabbards behind Crit; spears hefted protectively; arrows nocked and, above, thunder pealed like applause from heaven. “Crit,” said the Riddler over his shoulder. “Niko. You know what to do.”
Somewhere in the night, a lone wolf howled. And got an answer.