"The Darkest Night"

An Original Short Story.

“And what of the cavalry?” Ptolemeos asked. He gestured towards a group of blocks that had remained huddled in the corner of the map.

“The cavalry will pull to the right of our main force, luring the enemy to thin their ranks,” the General replied, sliding the blocks away from the wooden mass that represented his infantry. “When their front lines commit forward, our cavalry will disengage from the fighting and cut back across, separating the vanguard from their main force. We will attack them from both sides, and then the cavalry will continue forward to relieve the left flank.” He maneuvered the blocks quickly, but precisely, making sure that his lieutenants were clear on the plan.

“A familiar strategy,” smiled Ptolemeos. “But as I recall, Alexander the Great charged Darius at Gaugamela rather than cutting all the way across with his cavalry.”

“And as I recall, Darius escaped the battle, while Alexander lost precious time not coming to the aid of his troops.” The General looked up from the battle plans and locked eyes with his lieutenant. “Even in victory, there are lessons to be learned. We do not face a cowardly king tomorrow; we face a general who will not turn tail at the first sign of danger. If our cavalry attacks the centre and their forces hold true, our men will be the ones who risk getting encircled. Our cavalry will be trapped, while our left flank is overrun. Tomorrow, we must demoralize their men, not their leader. And to do that, we must break their lines while keeping ours intact.”

The General’s eyes were piercing, even in the absence of anger. On the contrary, he was calm and measured, resisting the temptation to lecture the older soldier. For a moment, silence filled the tent as Ptolemeos studied the plans again.

“There is truth to your words,” Ptolemeos said after a few seconds had passed. “I shall set my men to it at once.” He bowed his head and began to make his way towards the exit, as most of the others followed behind him. However, the General had not moved.

“One more thing,” he said, his gaze returning to the map sitting on the table in front of him. “The men are to remain in their tents tonight. As soon as the sun sets, they are to be confined to them, with the openings sealed tight. Only if we are attacked in the night are they to emerge, in which case I will sound the horn myself. But unless that horn sounds, any who disobey this command will be punished under the penalty of death. That includes all of you. Do I make myself clear?”

The lieutenants stopped in their tracks, clearly taken aback by what they had just heard. They exchanged glances, hoping that one of them would speak up. Many looked to Ptolemeos, but he refused to put himself at odds with the General a second time. All the while, the silence continued, with no one ready to accept the command, yet nobody wanting to be the one to question it.

“General, if I may…”

The voice belonged to Kritolaos, the eldest of the General’s lieutenants. He was a pensive man, one who much preferred listening to talking. Even now, it was the first time he had spoken during the war council, instead using the time to study the battle plans with a keen and thoughtful eye. Yet, in his silence, Kritolaos had gained a lifetime of wisdom, fragments of which he would share only on the rarest of occasions. So it was no surprise that, when he asked for the General’s permission, everyone in the tent turned to look at him. Even the General seemed intrigued by what Kritolaos had to say; he looked up at the older man and nodded, allowing the veteran to continue.

“Every one of your men has bled for you. Many of them will never make it home again. Yet they continue to fight because they believe in you, and because they have faith that you will lead them to greatness. I ask you now, not to strip them of their freedom. For many, this will be the last night of their lives; do not condemn them to the solitude of their tents. Let them enjoy the warmth of the campfires, the company of their brothers, the light of the stars… for Zeus’s sake, let them relieve themselves with dignity. At the very least, I ask that you tell us why you demand this of them, so that they may grasp the necessity of it.”

When Kritolaos had finished, the lieutenants turned to face the General, who had listened intently to every word. The General’s eyes softened as the elder man spoke, moved by his passionate plea for the troops.

“Well said, Kritolaos,” the General replied after a few moments had passed. “Do not think I don’t honour the men’s courage, or their sacrifice. However, my position has not changed. If they truly believe in me as you say they do, then they will obey my command, even if they don’t understand it. What I do, I do for the good of the men, and for the good of the army. That should be enough for them, and for you. See it done.”

Reluctantly, the lieutenants left the General’s tent and began to carry out the unpleasant task. They made their way from soldier to soldier making sure the word was spread. Though there were certainly protests among the men — accompanied by a few choice words of displeasure — most accepted the General’s order without too much trouble. After all, one night of confinement was a small price to pay to avoid the General’s wrath.

By the end of the day, the lieutenants had finished their work. Those who had not been told directly, soon learned of the General’s order from their brothers-in-arms. Eventually, everyone had retreated to their tents, sealing them tightly just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon. Though many continued their activities within the confines of their quarters, none dared to disobey their leader, who had made the consequences of insubordination clear. That is, with the exception of one.

Kritolaos had fought in countless battles, killed a hundred men, and still, had never had any trouble falling asleep. Yet now, sleep would not come, and the battle that would take place in a matter of hours was the farthest thing from his mind. Despite his best efforts, his mind continued to dwell on the army’s leader and the command he had given.

Though the General was relatively young for one in his position, he had proven to be wise beyond his years. He was rational and intelligent, and had never been one to act in haste or on impulse. However, his actions today were contrary to everything Kritolaos had thought he knew about the army’s leader. It wasn’t even the order itself that bothered Kritolaos; it was a simple enough command, one that was sure to be forgotten in a matter of days time by those fortunate enough to live that long. Instead, it was the mysterious reasoning behind the General’s request that kept sleep from coming to the old lieutenant. An unreasonable request was easy enough to dismiss; an irrational one was not. And it was the irrationality of the General’s order that ultimately forced Kritolaos from his bedroll.

The lieutenant pulled back the curtain of his tent, not knowing what to expect. As soldiers, the men were taught that any disobedience would immediately be spotted and punished. In his youth, Kritolaos would’ve half expected the General to be waiting for him in front of his tent with a spear in hand. But in his maturity, Kritolaos knew better. The General wasn’t omniscient, nor was his command a binding law of nature that would cause the world to crumble if broken. He was just a man, and his order was naught but words; words that Kritolaos was now determined to get to the bottom of.

Kritolaos walked through the empty camp, searching for anything unusual. In the absence of anything out of the ordinary, the lieutenant grew bolder, making his way deeper and deeper into the camp. Despite his best efforts, though, he couldn’t find anything of note. As far as he could tell, it was a night like any other; one that was orchestrated by crickets and illuminated by the waning moon.

After an hour of wandering the camp, Kritolaos arrived at his final destination: the General’s tent. However, the General wasn’t inside. He was a short distance away, sitting on the ground with his back turned towards the lieutenant. He was looking up at the moon, seemingly transfixed by it. It appeared that the General hadn’t yet noticed the man behind him, giving the veteran pause; perhaps it wasn’t too late to return to his quarters and pretend that he had never left. But then again, he had made his peace with getting caught over a half hour ago.

“I was wondering how long it would take you to make your way here, Kritolaos,” the General said when his lieutenant walked within earshot. The leader never turned around, never even took his eyes off the moon, yet somehow, he had known it was Kritolaos immediately.

“Am I so obvious?” asked the older man. The question was lighthearted, but Kritolaos remained cautious, still wary of how the General was going to react. Thankfully, though, for now at least, the leader’s voice was measured.

“Only you would risk death to satisfy your curiosity,” the General replied, still refusing to look at his lieutenant. “Are you so determined to gain the knowledge you seek, so unafraid of the consequences of insubordination?” Then his tone shifted. “Or do you simply think yourself so far above the others that you believe I will not follow through with my punishment?”

The questions were a test, a fact that was obvious to Kritolaos. But he hadn’t come this far only to deny his intentions or beg for forgiveness. He took a few steps forward, stopping just a few feet away from the General.

“Enlightenment always comes at a price, does it not?” answered Kritolaos, all humour now gone from his voice. Ironically, though, the question made the General scoff. “I, at least, had been warned of its cost beforehand,” the older man continued. “That’s why I came here alone, after telling the others to stay away. Not because I think myself above them, but because this was a risk that I alone was willing to take. Was I foolish to hope that rationality and cool-headedness would prevail?”

“We shall see.” The General replied. To the veteran’s relief, the harshness had left the leader’s voice. “There will be time enough to decide your fate in the morning. For now, take a seat. I feel there’s much for us to discuss, now that you seem to find yourself in the mood for it.”

Kritolaos walked up to the General and sat down beside him, following his gaze for the first time. As he did so, the older man finally discovered the significance of tonight. When Kritolaos had looked up at the sky upon leaving his tent, he had dismissed the small shadow that covered a fraction of the moon. It had barely made an impression on him, one of countless waning moons that had come and gone during his lifetime. But now, it was clear that the shadow was unlike anything he had ever seen; it was growing larger, slowly consuming the moon in the process.

“The darkening of the moon,” said Kritolaos, hiding the concern from his voice. “A bad omen, especially on a night before battle.”

“Yet one not seen by our men,” the General pointed out. “They are sound asleep, ignorant of any prophecy the skies may hold. On the other hand,” the leader continued, shifting his gaze to the distant torches of the enemy camp on the horizon, “our adversaries appear to be wide awake, no doubt as troubled by this sight as you are. So who’s to say that the omen is for us, and not them?”

This time, it was Kritolaos who had to suppress a scoff. However, even as he considered the General’s words, the leader’s mind appeared to be elsewhere, lost within whatever deeper meaning his words held.

“That’s what this is all about, then?” Kritolaos asked, turning towards the man beside him. “A vain attempt at tricking the Gods into turning their omen of misfortune to your advantage?”

“Not at all.” The General’s eyes returned to the moon, though his gaze was vacant. By now, more than half of the moon had been engulfed by the darkness, with more and more succumbing to it every second. “I’m simply pointing out the absurdity of it,” the General continued. “Even if it was as big as the moon, as bright as the sun, what good is an omen without those who are there to witness it? I can’t stop the gods from attempting to blind me any more than they can stop me from closing my eyes.”

“And yet, in your attempt to hide the omen from your army through willful ignorance, it’s you who now sits here, looking at it,” Kritolaos observed.

For the first time, the General smiled. “Perhaps I wish to test the truth behind its meaning for myself,” the leader confessed. “After all, what use would the Gods have for omens? Do you really believe them so benevolent that they would send warnings if they wished to punish us?” The General sighed. “I don’t believe in these omens, nor do I believe that the Gods would send them. It isn’t my men’s physical wellbeing that I sought to protect by confining them to their tents, it was their peace of mind. That was the only thing the darkening of the moon threatened.”

“To deny the Gods’ omens and to question their mercy… some might mistake your words for blasphemy,” Kritolaos chose his words carefully, hoping the General would see them as an inquiry rather than an accusation.

“And many philosophers and astronomers would disagree.” The General shot back, the edge returning to his voice. “They work tirelessly in their pursuit of knowledge and truth, only to be accused of impiety and heresy for their troubles. It’s true what you said; enlightenment always comes at a price, paid by those who seek it out for our benefit. Men like Socrates, who give their lives because their views and beliefs conflicted with someone else’s concept of religion.” The General paused as his voice lowered once more, now almost at a whisper. “Imagine, Kritolaos, how much knowledge has been lost to the ages because of close-minded fools who were afraid of truth and discovery. They pride themselves on their civilization’s progress and advancement, yet they are the ones brought into each new age kicking and screaming.” The words hung in the air as both men continued to watch the moon disappear. By now, there was only a sliver of it left. Soon, it would be gone completely.

“These philosophers and astronomers you speak of,” Kritolaos said, matching the leader’s gentle tone, “are they the ones who have caused you to lose faith in the Gods and their omens?”

“How do you think I knew about the moon’s darkening in the first place?” asked the General. “I was warned about it by an astronomer months ago, before we had even set out on this campaign. Even then, he was too afraid to speak his mind, to tell me that what was going to happen was as natural as the setting of the sun. Instead, He masked his findings by warning me of the Gods’ future displeasure.” Finally, the General turned to face the man beside him. “Tell me, Kritolaos, what kind of omen sent from the Gods follows such a precise schedule as to be predicted by man?” Kritolaos had no answer.

After a moment, the General turned his gaze back to the sky above. “Decades ago, Alexander himself was met with a night much like this one, with the moon disappearing before his army’s very eyes. His men lost heart and almost lost mind, threatening to revolt on the eve of what would be one of their greatest achievements. Only after countless sacrifices and the lies of an Egyptian priest did they finally return to their senses.” The General smirked. “I haven’t the animals, the priests, or the patience to deal with the situation as Alexander did. And so, the men were commanded to stay inside and look away. As I said during the war council, even in victory, there are lessons to be learned; and through his experiences, Alexander taught me that sometimes, it falls to the leader of an army to protect his men from their own superstition.”

The two men sat in silence as the shadow continued to move across the sky. After a few minutes, it finally reached the far side of the moon, threatening to plunge the world into complete and total darkness. However, just as the final hint of light was about to be extinguished, the moon suddenly reappeared, though not as it had been before. Rather than glowing a bright white, it was now a blood red, casting an eerie light upon the landscape. It was the stuff of legends and nightmares, invoking the images of witches and werewolves hunting for prey. Yet, it was also beautiful, illuminating the world in a way that few living men and women had seen.

“It’s quite a sight,” said Kritolaos, suddenly realizing that the uneasiness he had felt earlier was gone. “A shame the men will not see it.”

“They wouldn’t be able to appreciate it as you and I do. Their fear of the Gods would consume them. It would make them dangerous and unpredictable,” the General replied. “It’s better this way.”

Hearing this, Kritolaos finally brought himself to ask the question that had been on his mind ever since he had sat down. “Do you still hold any belief in the Gods?”

The General considered the lieutenant’s question carefully. “From a young age, we’re taught to see them everywhere; personifying, creating and controlling everything in the cosmos. But as I grew up, I found less and less room for their influence to be felt. How can Demeter’s sorrow be the cause of winter when some regions do not share our seasons? How can Themis be the Goddess of justice when I’ve seen innocent men punished while guilty men have roamed free? How can Athena be the source of wisdom when it’s that same wisdom that causes me to question her? The more I learned about the nature of things, the farther away the Gods seemed.

“That being said, it’s hard to walk away from something when it’s all you’ve ever known,” the General confessed. “Who am I to say that I wasn’t struck by Eros’s arrows when I met my wife? That Ares doesn’t command my spear when I lead my army into battle? That my soul won’t be brought to Hades when my time on this earth is done? All I know is that, as far as the Gods’ existence is concerned, I’ve only seen evidence to the contrary. Yet, if we were to accept their absence, we are forced to come to terms with an unimaginable void, confronted with how little we truly know about the world.” The General trailed off, realizing he had left the lieutenant’s question unanswered. “All I know is this,” he said, bringing himself back to the subject at hand, “I have personally never felt the Gods’ presence. The moments when I’ve tried to find them are the moments I’ve felt the most alone. And yet, on nights like tonight when I’ve tried to come to terms with that solitude, I am able to find peace.”

“‘Perhaps I wish to test the truth behind its meaning for myself,’” Kritolaos said, repeating the General’s words with a new sense of understanding. “It seems I’m not the only one willing to risk the price of enlightenment. Tomorrow, after having viewed the so-called omen in its entirety and done nothing about it, what is it you hope to find? Vindication?” Kristolaos asked.

“Absolution,” the leader replied.

“What about you?” the General asked a minute or so later, breaking the silence that had come over the men. “Do you believe in the Gods and their omens?”

“I suppose I choose to,” Kritolaos answered. “To me, the Gods are preferable to the abyss you speak of. They teach us about our origin, show us right from wrong, and encourage us to live in a manner that is beneficial not only to ourselves, but to each other. Where would our people be without Zeus’s law of Xenia, without the threat of Tartarus, or the promise of Elysium? For some people, the laws of men are simply not enough. The Gods provide order, reason, and purpose in a world where these things are all too rare.

“That being said, I’ve never seen the Gods, nor can I be sure of their influence,” Kritolaos confessed, his eyes still transfixed on the red moon above. “But I have felt them. Unlike you, I cannot recall a single time when I have felt alone. Even in quiet moments such as these, I pray to them; about the wars, about my family, about our people as a whole. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the void you speak of is real. Maybe we’ll eventually have to make peace with our own ignorance. But I cannot accept that we’ve come so far alone; that we have created civilizations, laws, the Gods themselves, without greater forces pushing us in the right direction; that other regions have come to know and worship the same Gods, albeit with different names. It’s what the Gods represent that brings us together, that unites us as men. They are the personifications of everything we see, everything we hold dear, and everything we strive to be. To me, the Gods are ever present, and should be honoured as such.”

“Then you must condemn me for allowing this omen to go unheeded, for not making sacrifices to appease the Gods,” the General observed. Kritolaos smiled.

“I admit, I’m conflicted,” Kritolaos replied. “To me, sacrifices have always represented the price you would pay to have your prayers answered. You ask the Gods for their aid and appease them by giving them something of equal value. When Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter for favourable winds to Troy, he proved, not only to the Gods, but to his men, what the campaign meant to him. On the one hand, you could argue that his sacrifice was the reason the Greeks finally conquered Troy. But you could also say that the only reason Agamemnon continued the war for 10 years was to prove that his daughter’s death wasn’t in vain. Either way, his sacrifice was the catalyst for victory, though the extent of the Gods’ involvement remains unclear.

“What makes your situation so interesting,” Kritolaos continued, “is that you choose to abstain from sacrifices because you don’t believe in the Gods, not because you don’t believe in your cause. From that perspective, I can understand how you would think sacrifices wouldn’t make a difference. Even if you had chosen to make sacrifices today, I don’t know if the Gods would’ve accepted them if the act was disingenuous to begin with.”

“So you’re saying that, if this truly was an omen, my point of view would’ve doomed us from the start.” The General sighed, for the first time sounding uncertain. “Do you think things would be different tomorrow if I had found the Gods tonight? If I had summoned the men, sacrificed the bulls, prayed to the goddess Selene in earnest to show us mercy? Is our destiny tomorrow truly affected by my inaction today?”

“Each man is entitled to his own beliefs, and doomed to his own fate,” Kritolaos said quietly. “I want to believe that the Gods wouldn’t punish the men for an omen they never saw. In that sense, perhaps you were wise to hide it from them. Or perhaps you have taken the burden onto yourself, awaiting the Gods’ fury for hiding the omen in the first place. I suppose only time will tell. Either way, there’s little any man can do to change his destiny.”

“But that’s just it, isn’t it?” the General exclaimed, the passion showing through his voice. “Religion would have us believe that everything is predetermined, that our fates are inescapable. So many of the myths deal with prophecy, all of which came to pass; Perseus unknowingly killed his father, Oedipus unknowingly married his mother, Pelias was overthrown by Jason, the man wearing one sandal. These men had very little to do with the fulfillment of their prophecies. On the contrary, some did everything in their power to avoid them; yet they were powerless to change them.

“If the legends of the prophecies we have heard time and time again are real, then our choices are not our own; we’re simply running the course of our lives in a manner that was decided long ago. We pray when we’re meant to pray, kill when we’re meant to kill, and die when we’re meant to die. It would mean that Hera’s labours for Hercules were meaningless, since he was always fated to succeed. It would also mean that Paris had no agency when he gave the golden apple to Aphrodite, since his actions were always destined to lead to the fall of Troy. Every accomplishment, every failure, every so-called choice is hollow, because nothing anyone does is of their own accord. No achievement is earned, nor is any punishment deserved.

“On the other hand, there’s Cassandra of Troy,” the General continued in a softer tone. “The prophetess saw many possible paths and tried to warn the Trojans of what was to come. Paradoxically, her very prophecies imply that free will exists and different choices can be made, yet she knew the outcome of each. This suggests that even in the presence of choice, the outcomes are predetermined. Did the Trojans really have the opportunity to save their beloved city? Or were the paths Cassandra saw only a part of her curse, giving her knowledge of alternate futures that would never be? Perhaps the illusion of free will was only meant to torment her with false hope that Troy’s fate could somehow be avoided.”

“Perhaps,” replied Kritolaos, contemplating everything the General had said. “Yet, you made the choice not to show the men the moon tonight. Whether you were destined to hide it from them or did so of your own volition, it was a choice you made knowingly and intentionally. If that’s the case, would it matter whether or not you were being pushed towards your destiny if the hands pushing you were invisible to you? If fate has manipulated us so absolutely that we believe we are in charge of our actions, then perhaps the deception becomes truth.”

“Is that what our free will amounts to, then?” the leader asked, a hint of bitterness entering his voice. “Imagining ourselves to be at endless crossroads when in reality, only one path exists?”

“It’s possible,” Kritolaos admitted. “But I don’t believe that’s the case. I’ve made many choices in my life; some that I’m thankful for and others that I dearly regret. Yet in my heart, I know that each decision was one that I myself had made. I don’t blame anyone for my mistakes, nor do I doubt that, had I chosen differently, my path would’ve taken me somewhere else. I’m only mortal; I will only ever know the outcome of the single path I have walked on; the one that has led me here. But it’s a path of my own choosing, of that I’m certain. I have exercised my free will, and the Gods are free to judge me accordingly for it.”

“A comforting notion for the ones who have put their faith in them,” the General pointed out. “But for those who can’t help but doubt the Gods, the reality is more bleak. If free will was truly given to us by the Gods, then it’s little more than a test to see whether we’ll worship them accordingly. A testament to their own vanity, that worship alone isn’t enough; that one must believe in them in order for our prayers to be heard. If that’s the case, then free will boils down to whether you’ll make the correct choice and worship the Gods, or whether you’ll be punished for your impiety. Not much of a choice at all, is it.”

“All actions have consequences,” Kritolaos simply said. “It has always been so. The Gods bless us with their gifts and judge us by what we do with them. For some it’s easier than for others, yet we must all make peace with the choices we make.”

The General considered his lieutenant’s words. “How cruel it would be, for the Gods to give me the wisdom to doubt them and the free will to act upon it, only to punish me for doing so.” He smiled ruefully at the irony. “Although, I suppose if the myths are to be believed, the Gods have done much worse to others.”

“Then why turn your back on them?” Kritolaos asked quietly, almost pleading to the man beside him.

“Because I must,” the General answered. “If the Gods are real, then I’m doomed regardless of the path I take. If I have free will, then I either don’t worship them or I worship them disingenuously. And if my destiny has been predetermined, then I was always fated to be at odds with the Gods, and to suffer whatever punishments they bestow upon me as a result. Dont you see, Kritolaos? Denying the Gods is the only path where I’m not damned by them. And tonight, I put my fate in their hands.”

Not for a moment had the General turned his eyes away from the red moon, willing himself to view the event in its entirety. Finally, Kritolaos understood why. As the silence stretched on, something miraculous happened; as quickly as it had arrived, the red moon disappeared. In its place was the same shadow as before, only this time it was retreating from the other side. Piece by piece, the white moon began to reappear.

“It seems the moon is returning, even in the absence of sacrifices. Just like you said it would,” Kritolaos observed as he got up. “Even so, I must go and offer my prayers to whatever Gods will yet hear them.”

“Each man is entitled to his own beliefs,” the General said, repeating the lieutenant’s words. “And doomed to his own fate.”

Kritolaos began to walk away but stopped after a few steps. He turned back towards the General, who had yet to turn and face him.

“General, I know it’s not my place,” he said slowly, “but I believe you should tell the men what we saw tonight. Regardless of your own beliefs, the men have a right to know. If it’s not an omen, then you’ll have the absolution you seek; yet if it is, you put them in danger.” He waited for a reply, but none came. “You denounce the men that silenced the philosophers and astronomers, condemn them for removing choice from those who don’t share their beliefs; but now, it’s you who put yourself above those who see the Gods differently than you.”

“What I did, I did for their own protection,” the General said finally. “I have given them courage and removed doubt. I’ve offered them a chance to fight with resolve, without distraction, and without fear.”

“Yet even you can’t say for sure whether you’re protecting them from the Gods or surrendering them to their mercy,” Kritolaos implored. “I have seen men such as the ones you speak of; ones that would silence any opinion that was not their own. Truly cruel men who would go to any lengths to ensure that their voice was the only one heard. They all spoke as you do, saying it was for the good of the people.”

“Is that what you think of me?” asked the General, his voice almost a whisper. “Is that what I have become? A tyrant?”

“No, General,” Kritolaos answered, softening his voice. “I know better than to reason with a tyrant.”

“Especially when he threatens you with death,” the General said, reflecting on the order he had given. He continued to watch as more and more of the moon became visible, once again illuminating the earth below. By now, even the torches in the enemy camp were beginning to be extinguished in the distance. He didn’t know whether they had prayed to the Gods or completed sacrifices; whether they had met the so-called omen with fear, joy, impiety, reverence, or indifference. All he knew was that each man in that camp had made their own choice about the wonder they had experienced. They had done their part. Now, it was time for the General to do his.

“Tell them, Kritolaos,” the General said. “Tell them what has happened, how you found out, and why you had been spared. Tell each man that, if he wishes, he will be supplied with the necessary materials to complete his prayers. And tell each man to do what he feels is right to honour himself as well as the Gods he believes in. Tell them.”

“Thank you, General,” Kritolaos said, relief flooding through him. Then he paused. “What of you?”

“I’ve made my decision and I will see it through. I will meet whatever consequences await me.” The General said. His lieutenant started thinking of what to say, but before he could say it, the General continued. “Don’t worry about me, Kritolaos. Like you, I am ready to pay the price of enlightenment this night. One way or another, I’m ready to meet my fate.”

Kritolaos smiled as he looked at the General one more time before returning to the camp. He walked up to the first tent he saw and untied the rope that had been used to seal the entrance. He walked in and was met with a startled soldier reaching for his sword.

“Kritolaos?” the man exclaimed, sleep still clinging to his voice. “What are you doing here? The General made it clear, we were to stay in our tents all night!”

“Peace, Timandros,” Kritolaos said. “Come. There’s something I must tell you.”